The Black Rhinoceros

Rhinoceros Protection in Namibia

During the 1970s and 80s there was widespread poaching of black (hook-lipped) rhinoceroses in Namibia. Terrible droughts had robbed the indigenous tribes, the Herero, Himba and Damara, of their livestock and food supplies when smugglers entered the region and offered a simple solution: money and food in return for horns and ivory.

The nature conservation authority MET (Ministry of Environment and Tourism) made a dramatic decision at the end of the 1980s: to de-horn the majority of the rhinoceroses in order to make them uninteresting for the poachers. The population was informed about the enormous value of the animals and rhinoceros tourism was advertised: all black rhinoceroses were declared state property and a national heritage. White (square-lipped) rhinoceroses are also state property, but may also be held privately.

The Namibian government, in cooperation with the 30-year old “Save the Rhino Trust” (STRT), has spent enormous amounts of money moving individual breeding groups of the critically endangered hook-lipped rhinoceroses into the care of private farms and wildlife preservation reserves. Gamekeepers and farmers guard the valuable animals in these so-called conservancies. Sustainable management of these specific groups has helped to slightly increase the population of black rhinoceroses in Namibia. The population of hook-lipped rhinoceroses grew from roughly 1120 animals in 2000 to about 1700 in 2010. During the 1980s there were only 67! Today, the children of the old poachers work for the STRT as waiters, guides or even managers – a new generation which has been trained by the former poachers.

But today, in the face of the rapidly spread of internationally organised poaching in South Africa, Namibia's conservation authorities fear for the security of these rhinoceroses living in the private and communal conservation areas. The Namibian authorities have carefully prepared for this development. The MET includes a department which constantly guards and checks the rhino population. This work includes equipping the rhinoceroses with tracking devices, regular game censuses and placing cameras at watering holes. These digital cameras use motion sensors and are activated when rhinos come to drink. The recording quality is so good that individual rhinoceroses can be identified. The recordings also allow the physical condition of the animals to be evaluated.

There is still a broadly organised exchange of knowledge and experience between the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and international experts, as well as international law enforcement agencies. In mid-May 2011 the MET opened a hotline which can be called at all hours by anyone wishing to provide information about rhino poaching, by text message as well.

Rhinoceroses in Erongo

Hook-lipped rhinoceroses lived on free ranges in the Erongo mountains until 1972. Because of the threat posed by poachers, the remaining animals were gathered and shipped to Etosha national park.

Around 10 years ago, landowners in the Erongo mountains formed the organisation “Erongo Mountain Nature Conservancy” to turn this unique area into a conservation area for threatened and endangered species, and to reintroduce formerly indigenous wild animals. Kudu, oryx, Hartmann's mountain zebra, springbok, klipspringer, dik-dik, the common duiker, steenbock, warhog, aardwolf, bat-eared fox, cheetah, ostrich and, in some areas, eland, hartebeest and giraffes can be found in the conservation areas. The numbers of leopards and brown hyenas have stabilised, and even elephants are now frequent visitors.

After 34 years hook-lipped rhinoceroses have been reintroduced to the Erongo mountains, protected by a fence. The goal of the “Erongo Mountain Rhino Sanctuary Trust” initiative is to protect the habitat of the newly-settled hook-lipped rhinos in the “Erongo Mountain Nature Conservancy” and to expand their population in trusteeship for the Namibian state, as black rhinos are Namibian state property and may not be privately owned.

This has resulted in appropriate guidelines and regulations from the nature conservation authority MET, to which the “Erongo Mountain Rhino Sanctuary Trust” is responsible, as formal contractual partner. The programme has been able to stabilise the population in the Erongo region, beginning with four bulls of different ages and two females, and now there are 15 rhinoceroses in the Erongo mountains. The habitat within the conservation area of the Erongo mountains is sufficient to support up to 80 animals.