It takes a village … an innovative approach to tackle rhino poaching

The Rhino – a denizen of Damaraland
August 17, 2012
It’s like experiencing the Discovery Channel – Namibia
August 17, 2012
The Rhino – a denizen of Damaraland
August 17, 2012
It’s like experiencing the Discovery Channel – Namibia
August 17, 2012

by Edward Jenkins 

The number of black rhinos in Namibia is not published (as a security precaution), but the news is good; fully one-third of the animals in Africa are found here. Such a remarkable statistic stands as a clear indicator of effective and innovative management policies.

Namibia is certainly no stranger to the problem of poaching. From the 1970s through the mid-1980s, rhino populations dropped throughout Africa by a staggering 95%.

In the mid-1970s, concerned conservation authorities moved a number of black rhino from Kaokoland and Damaraland into the Etosha National Park, as a means of preserving genetic diversity.  A 1982 survey showed that there were fewer than 10 black rhino in Kaokoland, and only 30 or 40 in Damaraland.

However, in recent years, innovative management and law enforcement by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), monitoring and training by Save the Rhino Trust (SRT), and the support of local communities, have produced remarkable results.

Patrol with Donkeys Photo Credit Dave Hamman Photography

Rhino patrol with Donkeys. Photo: Dave Hamman Photography

In general, the rights to utilise wildlife assets reside with the governments of both Namibia and South Africa. However, freehold conservancies (organisations of individual farm owners) were established here in 1992, followed by communal conservancies (organisations of residents on communal lands) in 1996.

Conservancy members agree to practise co-operative management of wildlife assets to benefit all their members, and a recognised conservancy acquires certain benefits and rights to manage wildlife in its area that are not offered to others.

According to the Conservancies Organisation of Namibia (CANAM), more than 88% of Namibia’s wildlife is found outside national parks. With 43% of the country’s total area designated as freehold farmlands, and 40% as communal farmland, it becomes clear that the growth of the conservancy movement has a direct and significantly positive impact on conservation.

By contrast, up to 90% of the endangered animals in South Africa are found in national parks and nature reserves.

The MET has played a key role in rhino conservation. Ministry personnel have been trained in tracking, data collection, law enforcement, weapons handling and crime-scene investigation.

The MET has also established monitoring programmes, and maintains a nationwide database on the black rhino. In developing regional rhino security strategies, hundreds of rhino have been darted to install monitoring devices of various kinds, and new and innovative security procedures, which remain classified, have been implemented.

Pierre du Preez, the MET’s Rhino Coordinator, believes one important factor in Namibia’s anti-poaching success is the Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) programmes that are now in place.

In his recently published book, An Arid Eden, renowned Namibian conservationist Garth Owen-Smith documents the development of the CBNRMs, which have helped make Namibia a world leader in the field of wildlife conservation. 

Rugged Damaraland ... Rhino country. Photo:

Rugged Damaraland … Rhino country. Photo:

Mr Owen-Smith compares the community game-guard programmes of Namibia’s CBNRM to those of Zambia’s Luangwa Integrated Resource Development Project (LIRDP), which proved unsuccessful in preventing the widespread poaching of elephant and rhino. Zambia’s ‘wildlife scouts’, who were part of the government structure, were required to meet certain physical and educational standards.

They received formal training, and worked from camps. The focus of the programme was anti-poaching law enforcement.

By contrast, the Namibian Community Game Guards (CGGs), even when paid by an NGO, remain responsible to their individual conservancies. Most of those selected are older, experienced men with little or no formal education, who operate from their homes.

They are tasked with monitoring game, working on community projects, and reporting suspected illegal activities to the conservancy administrators and conservation officials. Their duties do not include law enforcement.

With the support of traditional authorities and the involvement of long-time community members as game guards, attitudes toward wildlife began to change.

The MET has begun a strategic programme to translocate some of the burgeoning rhino population in national parks into conservancies and to private custodians who meet stringent criteria, including the establishment of their own game guards, who are trained in tracking and data collection by the SRT.

Before rhinos are translocated into historical range areas, the approval of local citizens must be obtained. Once approved by the community, an integral part of the reintroduction process is to bring the still-tranquillised rhino to a place where it may be seen and touched by community members, who give it a name before it is released.

Desert adapted black rhino by Piers L'estrange.

Desert adapted black rhino by Piers L’estrange.

The animal thereby becomes a part of the community, rather than being viewed as something forced upon it by others. “We have translocated quite a few breeding populations to communal conservancies under the custodian programme, and have not yet lost one to poaching,” notes Mr du Preez.

He went on to say that the SRT was an important strategic partner of the MET in the north-western region. “The Trust assists us in implementing rhino strategies, such as expanding the range, and supplementing small populations,” he said.  “Without its participation, our chances of successfully conserving the Kunene population would be significantly endangered.”

“I want to make it very clear that here in Namibia we have zero tolerance for poaching… It is no secret that our country is a world leader in rhino conservation and we are extremely proud of that achievement,” says Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, Namibian Minister of Environment and Tourism.

The SRT works hand-in-hand with Government to carry out its programmes, providing training in tracking and monitoring rhinos for MET personnel, conservancy guards, the staff of freehold rhino custodians, and others. The NGO conducts joint patrols with the MET, Community Game Guards, and other agencies, and collects extensive data for inclusion in the national database.

The SRT has developed a Tracker Guide to ensure that all game guards receive the same training, and that data collected from different sources will be uniform. As a result, the reliability of the information added to the MET’s database is substantially improved. The Rhino Viewing Protocol ensures that trackers, tour guides, and other parties concerned will keep human-induced disturbance to an absolute minimum. (See box on page 19)

Other agencies also play an important role. The Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC) programme is an NGO that provides technical, logistical and financial support to more than 50 registered and emerging communal area conservancies.

Working with Rhino by Ginger Mauney

Working with Rhino by Ginger Mauney


Other key contributors to Namibia’s success include the Namibian Police (NAMPOL); INTERPOL; the Namibian Association of CBNRM Support Organisations (NACSO); and the South African conservation authorities. A recent agreement between the MET and communications giant MTC has resulted in the establishment of a Rhino Security SMS Hotline, to allow citizens to report any poaching incidents or suspicious activities.

With innovative thinking and strong leadership, rhino poaching in Namibia has reached an all-time low, an accomplishment of which government authorities are justifiably proud. With the continuing support of SRT, the many other governmental and non-governmental agencies involved, and most importantly, with the assistance and support of local communities, the black rhino may yet survive in the wild, to be appreciated by future generations.

55555 is the SMS ‘hotline’ for Namibians to call when they want to share information on anything that may threaten the safety of Namibia’s rhinos. It is an initiative between MTC, the local mobile service provider and Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism.

Go here for more information

This article appeared in the Autumn 2012 edition of Travel News Namibia.



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