Despite fierce and widespread criticism, numerous petitions, a lawsuit and even death threats, controversial Texas hunter Corey Knowlton's mission to hunt down a black rhino in Namibia has been fulfilled. 

Accompanied by a CNN camera crew and two government trackers, and armed with a high-powered rifle, Knowlton shot and killed an old rhino bull in northern Namibia on Monday, following a three-day hunting expedition. (Warning: This CNN video might upset sensitive viewers.)

News of the hunt immediately sparked strong reactions online, reigniting debates between international conservation groups, animal rights activists, the hunting community and the general public that have been raging since Knowlton's $350,000 bid won him a 2014 Dallas Safari Club auction for a permit to hunt a black rhino in Namibia. The auction had been billed as a fundraising effort to save the critically endangered rhino species, with proceeds going towards conservation and anti-poaching efforts in the African country. 

In an apparent show of emotion moments after the hunt ended, Knowlton reflected: "I felt like from day one it was something benefiting the black rhino. Being on this hunt, with the amount of criticism it brought and the amount of praise it brought from both sides, I don't think it could have brought more awareness to the black rhino."

Knowlton's detractors have been vocal in rejecting such shoot-to-conserve arguments, saying that hunting sends the wrong message about saving endangered species, particularly in the face of Africa's escalating poaching pandemic. Just last week, the Namibian government revealed that the country lost 60 rhinos to poaching this year, up from a reported 24 in 2014. In neighbouring South Africa, poachers have killed over 400 rhinos just this year.

CNN itself has come under fire for its coverage of Knowlton's expedition, with some Twitter users accusing it of "glorifying" the hunt.

Scathing tweets directed at Knowlton, and the Namibian goverment for issuing the hunting permit, have also been streaming in since the news broke.   

Celebrity reactions were led by British comedian Ricky Gervias, whose Twitter feud with extreme hunter Rebecca Francis grabbed headlines last month. 

Meanwhile, the Texas-based International Rhino Foundation has released a statement saying it "does not condone the hunt" – but also noted its legality under both Namibian and international regulations. The conservation organisation went on to express concern that important conservation issues – such as the poaching of hundreds of rhinos, including many reproductive females, across the African continent – were being "sidelined by the uproar over the hunt of this one animal."

But perhaps the most moving reaction to Knowlton's hunt appeared before it even took place, when an honorary game warden with the Kenya Wildlife Service appealed to the hunter to cancel his plans earlier this year. In an open letter that was featured by Africa Geographic, Raabia Hawa argued that Knowlton had been "duped into believing" that his hunt would aid conservation in Africa, and that killing an endangered rhino would be an insult to the rangers who risked their lives each day to protect these same animals. She wrote:

We are in the wake of a crisis that has gripped our region. Poachers have decimated our herds, and Africa is no longer teeming with wildlife. You kind sir, have been duped into believing that your hunt will aid conservation in Africa.

It will not. Aside from gaining Namibia huge disrepute, it will go against the very fiber of what we are trying so hard to achieve – the protection and true management of our last wild things.

Hunting never has been, and probably never will be, in the true interest of the African people or nations. I appeal to you to spend some time with us to see this for yourself. It is not conservation, and the government officials that continue to allow such ‘fun hunts’ on endangered and critical species, must be ashamed. Indeed they know our great herds are gone, and the more this continues, the more we will fall into the abyss of misery and I’m sure, kind sir, that you do not wish such a ferociously merciless fate for us.

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Top header image: Baron Reznik, Flickr