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SOS Rhino : In the News : Archived News : November 1999 : Fighting for the Rhino; Fort Worth man works to save animals with conservation

Fighting for the Rhino; Fort Worth man works to save animals with conservation

By Kristin N. Sullivan

November 17, 1999

FORT WORTH - Fresh out of the service as a wartime flight instructor and married into a family of means, Harry Tennison had acquired the freedom to travel. And more than anything, he wanted to go to Africa. It was post-World War II. Passenger air travel had become affordable, and ex-servicemen who had money to see the world were going on safari to Africa.

But it was not until 1955, on a 45-day hunting expedition in what would become Tanzania, that Tennison realized his future calling. "The first rhino I saw, it was maybe a year old and 1,000 pounds, and it was being pursued by a group of Mau Mau," Tennison, 80, recalled. "The animal had a spear in it, but it ran off. It angered me because I thought the little animal was helpless."

Such empathy did not immediately divert Tennison from his game-hunting enthusiasm. His home near River Crest Country Club is chock full of trophies and paintings commemorating big kills. But by 1961, Tennison had made four safaris to Africa. And he began thinking more about conserving the dwindling numbers of rhinoceros, he said. "I realized we had better start putting them back, or there wouldn't be any left," he said. "Especially the black rhino, because they were so vulnerable. They had bad eyesight and they would charge you, or trot at you very fast, which scared some people." Six years later, Tennison helped organize a conference of hunters to discuss conservation efforts. In the early 1970s, he won permission from some African nations to import several white and black rhinos. Some of the animals were placed in individual breeding programs. Others went to the Fort Worth Zoo. Tennison and Fort Worth businessman Lee Bass helped found the Ohio-based International Rhino Foundation in 1993. The foundation estimates that about 2,600 black rhinos exist in the wild, while about 240 live in captivity.

Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose has four black rhinos - one adult male, two adult females and a 5-month-old calf, administrators said. The Fort Worth Zoo has three black rhinos. Tennison helped the zoo acquire the animals, a spokeswoman said. Rhinos were hunted almost to extinction in the 1970s, when their horns became a popular material for dagger handles in international markets, according to rhino conservation groups. The animals are now protected from poaching under the 1975 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Tennison said he counts his support of rhinoceros breeding programs to be among his most significant contributions to the century.

"There's a difference between preservation and conservation," Tennison said over a Kincaid's hamburger on a recent afternoon. "To preserve means to seal off. To conserve means to save. "I'm a hunter-conservationist. Because I was a hunter, I could see what needed to be saved."

Kristin Sullivan, (817) 390-7610




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