Save the Rhino Trust: Who wants a rhino in their backyard?July 9, 2012
The wild horses of the Namib – Living on the edgeJuly 9, 2012
By Ginger Mauney
Whether facing a charging rhino, trekking with camels over rugged terrain or refusing to flinch when a foreign cameraman has moved in too close, Simson Uri-Khob is unflappable.
He’s had to be, as life has taken him a long way from his hometown of Witvlei to his current position as Director of Research for the Save the Rhino Trust (SRT).
A chance meeting with Blythe Loutit, then Director of the SRT, at his welding business in Khorixas, a small town in Damaraland where he had settled after completing his secondary education there, led to several welding jobs while repairing Land Rovers for the SRT.
Two months later, it led to a job offer. Blythe asked Simson to supervise SRT staff who were building elephant protection walls in Grootberg. In July 1991, Simson began his career with the SRT.
“Soon after that, I realised that my special love was for rhino and elephant, and I decided to commit myself wholeheartedly to the protection of these species. Since then I’ve developed a passion for all wild animals and even more love for elephants and rhinos,” says Simson.
He’s also gained a great deal more knowledge about conservation in general and these two species in particular. After attending courses – including the Basic Tour Guide course at Palmwag, the Wilderness Course at the Waterberg Plateau Park and a three-week elephant identification, ageing and sexing course in Amboseli National Park presented by Cynthia Moss, a world-famous elephant expert.
Simson is confident that he is ‘one of the few black Namibians with expertise in elephant monitoring’. He’s put this expertise to good use, training Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) personnel and Conservancy Game Guards, while working towards the position of Director of Fieldwork at the SRT.
Over the years, Simson was given greater responsibilities, including running the SRT’s camel project and being the ‘face’ of the SRT on films such as the BBC’s Dawn to Dusk series and Wild Africa.
In 2000, Simson’s changed his professional direction again. Mike Hearn, then Director of Research for the SRT, won the Darwin Initiative award at the University of Kent. Part of the award made provision for two Namibians to study for a Master of Science degree. With 13 years’ field experience with the SRT, Simson was nominated for one of these bursaries.
Two years later, after completing a research project on the attitudes of local people towards the reintroduction of black rhino to their historical range, Simson was awarded an MSc with Merit.
Today Simson is the Director of Research for the SRT. He is a member of the African Rhino Specialist Group, and just last year he shared the Namibia Nature Foundation Environmental Award with Peter Bridgeford.
Like all the best conservationists, Simson looks towards to the future with respect for the past. “I strongly believe that my success is due to the late Blythe Loutit and Mike Hearn, who both helped me and encouraged me all along. Now it is my turn to help make a difference. Through education and communication, I am able to pass on my knowledge to the next generation, and I know that my work will carry on. That’s why I love it.”
This article appeared in the 2006/7 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.