A Texan who won an auction to shoot an endangered black rhino in Namibia has been given a US permit to import the trophy if he kills one.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service said hunting an old rhino bull helps to increase the population.
There was an outcry when Corey Knowlton won the auction last year, with animal rights activists decrying it. It’s not yet clear when the hunt will happen.
Namibia is home to some 1,500 black rhino, a third of the world’s total.
The US agency issuing the permit said that importing the carcass from Namibia would be allowed because it met criteria under the Endangered Species Act of benefiting conservation.
Since first considering whether to issue the permit in November, the agency has received petitions with around 152,000 signatures demanding that it be denied.
The Dallas Safari Club, which held the auction, said the $350,000 (£235,000) winning bid would fund future conservation efforts.
Its executive director, Ben Carter, sent a letter to the agency in December that said the proceeds from the auction are “critical to supporting the Namibian government in their efforts to stem the tide of commercial killing of these animals”.
As the agency considered the permit, Mr Knowlton’s money has been kept in escrow and the hunt was postponed.
Last year, he claimed to have had to hire security because he’d received death threats.
He said he had been speaking to the FBI about protecting his family. A number of people posted abuse on his Facebook page, calling him “cruel” and a “barbarian”.
It is not clear if a date for Mr Knowlton’s hunt has been set.
Animal rights group Peta has said that it will file a lawsuit, while Wayne Pacelle, chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States said the federal agency was sending a “mixed message” and noted that Rhino poaching is on the rise.
A Las Vegas investment manager who bought a hunting permit directly from the Namibian authorities will also be granted a permit to import a carcass.
For its part, the US Fish and Wildlife Service said it denied a request to import an elephant carcass from Zimbabwe because allowing it to happen would not enhance the survival of the species in the wild.