South Africa has won permission to almost double the number of black rhinos that can be killed as trophies after arguing the money raised will support conservation of the critically endangered species.

The decision was made at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) after receiving support from some African nations and opposition from others.

Poachers supplying the illegal trade in rhino horn decimated numbers in the past but the population is now growing. About 5,000 black rhinos exist today, almost 2,000 of them in South Africa.

Since 2003, South Africa has been allowed to sell hunting rights for five black rhinos a year. The latest decision means it can take up to 0.5% of the population, meaning nine rhinos at today’s levels. South Africa said adult males would be targeted, to protect breeding females.

The request was opposed by Gabon, whose delegate said: “It is a very small population and threatened by poaching.” Kenya’s delegate said the move, along with poaching, would mean almost half the black rhino population increase each year being lost. NGOs also opposed the move, with Born Free’s delegate noting South Africa rarely used its existing quota.[KS: typically stupid comment by the Kenyans. Trophy hunting and poaching totally different. To conflate like this is a typically mendacious approach. Kenyans pontificate while their wildlife dwindles away.]

But South Africa was supported by other rhino range states including Botswana, Zimbabwe and Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), as well as the EU and Canada. South Africa agreed not to use the full quota if the rhino population fell below a certain level, but did not specify what this would be.

Tom Milliken of Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring group, said the higher quota could help increase black rhino numbers. Older males could cause conflicts, prevent younger males from breeding and even kill females, he said. “It is a positive: you are basically preventing bar-room brawls and getting faster reproduction rates going,” Milliken said.

He said the black rhino was one of the highest-priced trophy animals, costing tens of thousands of dollars to hunt. “It really is providing conservation funds,” Milliken said.