A man worth listening to – Piet HeynsJuly 12, 2012
The Future of Co-Management – Conservation must harmonise with social needsJuly 13, 2012
By Ginger Mauney
In the early 1980s, illegal poaching of black rhinos in the arid north-western regions of Namibia was rife. The population of these rare, solitary creatures had been decimated, leaving an estimated 60 rhinos. The black rhino was in desperate need.
Help arrived in the form of Namibia’s Save the Rhino Trust (SRT).
The late Blythe Loutit, founder of the SRT, and a few community members turned game guards began a conservation support service, helping rhinos by assisting the Ministry of Environment and Tourism to co-ordinate, monitor and, in time, research the needs of the rhino population. It was an ambitious programme, too much for one NGO to handle alone.
Fortunately, they didn’t have to. Because the goal of saving the rhino is bigger than one group and arouses passion on more than one continent, support for the SRT has come from organisations around the world. Their commitment to the SRT and to saving the rhino has made all the difference.
Staying with it
Since 1994, The David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) has been a dedicated supporter of black-rhino conservation in Namibia. The original commitment of the foundation was key to the establishment of the SRT and its ongoing commitment to core funding has helped keep the SRT’s anti-poaching patrols in the field.
The foundation has also supported the rhino identification database, salaries, purchase of equipment and training of game guards, and the SRT’s community education and awareness programmes.
“The DSWF prides itself in ‘staying with it’. Once it sees the value of its long-term support, the SRT being a case in point, it will loyally continue funding and in this case step up funding to enable the SRT to achieve its vital conservation goals,” says Melanie Shepherd, daughter of renowned wildlife artist and DSWF founder, David Shepherd.
“Single grants are great, but long-term stability is the real lifeline. You need to know that funding will come in and at what levels each year in order to undertake sustainable planning.”
In co-operation with other donors, the DSWF is helping the SRT create one of the best-monitored programmes in the conservation world, involving local communities and establishing a detailed behavioural and biological history for each rhino living in the rugged regions of north-western Namibia.
Since 1991 when founder directors of Save the Rhino International (SRI), David Stirling and Johnny Roberts, cycled through Africa to raise money and awareness for rhino conservation, SRI has also been a steadfast supporter of the SRT.
“Our position is that the SRT has the experts for ongoing anti-poaching and monitoring work, and on community conservation initiatives,” says Cathy Dean, Director of SRI. “We support the SRT’s funding priorities. We try to help them raise money so that they can get on with what they do best – field work – while we do what we do best – fundraising.”
Funds generated by SRI have gone towards keeping the camel-based rhino monitoring team in the field, vehicle and research costs, an aerial survey, a new visitors’ centre and solar-powered energy system at Palmwag, the SRT’s base in north-western Namibia, and the ongoing training of SRT staff and neighbouring conservancy game guards.
“We also help by communicating the work of the field projects we support. There is information on the SRT on our website and we publish their articles in our magazine, The Horn, which goes to over 2 000 supporters. This way they receive updates about the SRT’s work every six months,” says Dean, adding that SRI has every intention of continuing to support the SRT for as long as both organisations exist.
For the past thirteen years, Berolina das Schriftbild, a German company selling eco-friendly printer equipment, uses the SRT’s logo on their products and donates money from sales to support the administration of the trust.
The SAVE Foundation based in Perth, Australia, is also dedicated to helping black rhinos in their fight for survival. While 90% of their support goes to the various Zimbabwean projects, Namibia’s SRT has received goods and funding for specific project expenses since the early 1990s.
“Commemorating the lives of Blythe and Mike and all they stood for, and our committee’s visit to Palmwag, resulted in a considerable increase in aid this year,” said Nicolas Duncan, SAVE Foundation’s co-founder and director.
On another continent, support has come from the US Fish and Wildlife Services, which has helped with project-oriented grants such as the Hoanib elephant project, aerial surveys and the training of community game guards under the Rhino Custodianship programme of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism.
Support from tourism
In another collaboration that should bring long-term gains to conservation and tourism in Namibia, the SRT partnered with Wilderness Safaris Namibia to set up Palmwag Rhino Camp. Established in 2003, the camp is in a core range area of the desert-dwelling rhinos.
For every guest staying there, Wilderness Safaris Namibia donates a percentage of the income to the SRT. Wilderness Safaris also covers the operational costs of the tracking team that patrols the area.
Every day SRT trackers locate rhino in the concession area and then radio the camp guide, instructing him on where to take his guests to see them. Trackers and guests gather information that contributes to the SRT’s scientific database on the ecology of desert rhino, including work on the impact of tourism on rhino behaviour. This venture is exploring the potential for rhino-tracking safaris to become a sustainable, incentive-based approach to conservation in Africa.
In other long-term conservation initiatives, the SRT is working with The Nature Conservancy, other partners, and the Namibian Government on the ecological design for a new park linking the Etosha National Park and the Skeleton Coast Park eventually. This involves communal conservancies, privately managed concessions and private reserves to link fragmented wildlife populations, including black rhino, on almost seven million hectares.
Round River Conservation is another partner in collaborative research. Students from the USA are working with SRT trackers and field-staff partners on a number of projects, including studies on human impact disturbance of wildlife populations in north-western Namibia.
The UK-based Tusk Trust also supported rhino conservation by donating money towards the 2007 national rhino census.
Groups such as ATG Oxford and the EAZA (the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria) have donated money for specific projects, such as the Cycle Ride in Memory of Mike Hearn, who was the SRT’s Director of Research until his untimely death in 2005.
The SRT has overseen a 200% increase in rhino numbers since beginning its research and monitoring work in Namibia in the 1980s. This dramatic turnaround could not have been achieved without the steadfast support of the SRT’s international and local conservation partners.
Yet threats to the black rhino remain, due to civil unrest, poverty, greed, and, some may argue, the recent CITES approval of limited black-rhino hunting. There is no time for complacency in conservation. Fortunately, the Save the Rhino Trust and its partners understand this, and together they are working hard to ensure that the last, truly wild population of black rhinos not only survives, but thrives.
This article appeared in the 2008/9 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.