A species in danger: Who holds the moral high ground?

Go on safari in Namibia and Botswana
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    Go on safari in Namibia and Botswana


Go on safari in Namibia and Botswana 01:18

Story highlights

  • Rhinos are a topic of heated debate in Namibia and Botswana
  • Ideas around conserving the endangered animals are wildly different

(CNN)Two men approach one black rhinoceros from opposite sides.

Both know that there are fewer than 5,000 of them left on the planet. Both shudder at the thought of this ancient species going extinct in their lifetimes.
    They agree that the voracious Asian demand for rhino horn as a status symbol is fueled by ignorance and greed. They agree that the gangs of violent poachers who supply this black market must be stopped at all costs. But that is where their agreement ends, because one man carries a camera while the other carries a gun.
    One is convinced that strict hunting bans and high-end photo tourism can save Africa's iconic creatures from extinction.
    The other believes that without the big-game hunter, there would be no big game. He argues that a man willing to spend a small fortune to shoot a rhino, lion or elephant is the best incentive poor African nations have to protect their wildlife.
    So who's right? Which man holds the moral high ground? And in this age of manmade mass extinction, which one's ideas will save the black rhino?
    These are the questions that sent "The Wonder List" on safari, from the searing deserts of Namibia to the lush delta of Botswana.
    We picked these nations because they are neighbors with very different ideas about species protection.
    It turned out to be a good choice, because we encountered some of the most incredible wildlife scenes ever filmed and some of the most passionate debates in conservation.
    A few years back, Botswana banned hunting. Private game farms still exist, but on state-owned land like the Okavango Delta, animals enjoy the highest level of protection in Africa.
    See Africa's expansiveness in Wonderlapse
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      See Africa's expansiveness in Wonderlapse


    See Africa's expansiveness in Wonderlapse 00:29
    Meanwhile, next door in Namibia, tightly regulated "sustainable-use conservation" allows for hunting even the most endangered of species.
    In 2014, the government auctioned off a black rhino hunt to a Texas oil heir, Corey Knowlton, for $350,000.
    Namibian wildlife managers rationalized this by identifying a specific rhino for the hunt -- one that was old, aggressive and well past breeding prime -- and they vowed that the money would go back into rhino conservation.
    But for countless animal lovers, that logic is cold comfort.
    Knowlton received thousands of angry messages and dozens of death threats, while Zimbabwe's Cecil the lion and the Minnesota dentist who shot him created the kind of firestorm that makes it reasonable to wonder: Which will go extinct first, the black rhino or the Great White Hunter?