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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM/CBS 11 NEWS)It was the Fall of 2013 when the Dallas Safari Club attracted worldwide attention for putting together an auction for the chance to hunt a black rhino in Africa. The Club opened its 2015 convention Thursday, absent of that kind of controversy.

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The Safari Club is hoping for a quieter convention this year.

An estimated 30,000 people will look at 1,730 exhibits for hunting and outdoor life at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Dallas Convention Center — Thursday through Sunday.  This year, fishing trips and safaris are being auctioned off.  Also hunts of wild animals.

But executive director Ben Carter argues money from these hunts help perpetuate a species’ viability.   “If you manage the wildlife in the right way you’ll get a surplus each year; that is where you’ll get the money to maintain the hard, manage the herd and maintain the population of all those wild animals,” he said.

Last year’s auction of a black rhino hunt won a $350,000 bid in Namibia, which allows five such hunts a year.  But these beasts are endangered and that auction set off a storm of complaints, which Carter believes are unwarranted.   “U.S. Fish & Wildlife has supported Namibia in their wildlife conservation efforts,” he said, adding that Zimbabwe believes, “It’s the best way to raise money to do anti-poaching and black rhino conservation.”

During the 2014 convention some members of the Dallas Safari Club had themselves become targets – after several received death threats related to the rhino auction. At the time, executive director Ben Carter said critics of the auction were misguided. While the black rhino is endangered in Africa, Carter claimed the species is making a comeback in Namibia through commercial hunting conservation efforts.

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One of this year’s auctions is a leopard hunt in Zimbabwe.  Like the black rhino, the thinking on this hunt is to remove a large, old trophy male past his breeding prime who’s a danger to others animals.  Gavin Rorke hosts hunting safaris in Zimbabwe and agrees with the reasoning.  “And often it [trophy male] would take over an area and not let a younger animal breed better and control and dominate.  If you remove that animal you are probably increasing your population.”

Rorke says in Zimbabwe it’s against the law to shoot females in order to protect the overall leopard population.  “I don’t think leopards are endangered.  There’s enough scientific evidence to show the populations are viable.”

One of the groups protesting last year’s auction isn’t so sure.  The Animal Legal Defense Fund did not know about the leopard auction this year until CBS 11 News asked for comment.  A spokesman said it will look into this year’s event, but cautioned the trophy animal logic — while it does seem to apply to big cats like lions — doesn’t necessarily cover all wild African cats.

(©2015 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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