TODAY   |  January 11, 2014

Club auctioning permit to hunt endangered black rhino

A safari club in Texas plans to auction a rare permit that will allow a hunter to kill an endangered black rhino. The club says money raised will help with conservation efforts. NBC’s Janet Shamlian reports.

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>> will auction off a permit tonight that will allow the winner to shoot an endangered black rhino . but as janet shamlian tells us, the club argues, the whole purpose of this is to try to save the species.

>> reporter: the head of an african elephant , a brown bear and other wild animals . the exhibit at the dallas safari club 's annual convention are to some unsettling enough, but it's what's on the auction block tonight that has shocked and angered many, a permit to kill an endangered black rhino . some so enraged, they've sent death threats to club members, prompting the fbi to get involved.

>> i've had threats all my life, my family's life, our members.

>> reporter: the black rhino is critically endangered with fewer than 5,000 left in the wild. its horn is one of the world's most valuable items on the black market . organizers say the auction is for a good cause.

>> it's the best way to raise money to help save the black rhino .

>> reporter: tonight's highest bidder will be allowed to hunt and kill an older, nonbreeding male in namibia, with all of the auction money going to the african country for conservation efforts. the permit is one of five offered by namibia each year, but it's the first ever for sale in the u.s. while the u.s. fish and wildlife service has okayed the auction, there is widespread outrage online. a petition on the web has nearly 60,000 signatures. there is a facebook page dedicated to stopping the auction. and late-night comic stephen colbert has fired a verbal shot.

>> like the old saying, if you love something, set it free. then, when it has a bit of a head start , open fire .

>> reporter: opponents say it's the wrong way to save the species.

>> it's sending a message that this animal's worth more rare and dead than alive with healthy population.

>> reporter: amid threats and a planned protest, security is tight around the convention. that hasn't stopped the crowds expected to top 40,000. and when the auction hammer falls tonight, it could top $250,000. for "today," janet shamlian , nbc news, houston.