Black Rhino Conservation and Tourism

To promote the science-based management of black rhinos for conservation and tourism in Namibia


Between 1970 and 1992 rampant rhino poaching swept across Africa, claiming over 95% of Africa's rhinos. Many of the poachers were local, tempted by lucrative bribes that exceeded a lifetime's earnings. The incentive to poach was compounded by the fact that they had no rights to benefit from or manage the wildlife on their lands, and thus had no real reason to care for it. 


By the mid-1980s, fewer than 50 black rhinos were believed to still exist in the remote Kunene region of north-west Namibia. To a few innovative souls (including the founders of Save the Rhino Trust – SRT) it was a call to arms. They placed their hope in the idea that if local people viewed rhinos to be more valuable alive than dead, the incentive to poach would diminish. This approach united government, local conservation organisations and local traditional authorities to combine strict, yet non-lethal, law enforcement with a grassroots patrolling system that was governed and carried out by some of the communities' most respected, elite leaders. The efforts effectively halted the poaching in the region with no confirmed poaching events since 1994.


In the late 1990s, rhino conservation in Namibia was strengthened by the passing of ground-breaking legislation that devolved governance and benefit rights for the utilisation of natural resources back to rural communities that were organised into "conservancies". This incentive, along with the co-occurring tourism boom in Namibia, triggered an unprecedented demand by rural communities to restore one of Africa's most critically endangered iconic species, the black rhino, to their historical rangelands and enhance their tourism potential under the government's innovative Rhino Custodianship Programme.


The success and sustainability of the larger vision for securing a future for Namibia's free-ranging black rhino population in Kunene is currently threatened by the recent surge in poaching in neighboring countries. Sucessful rhino restoration in suboptimal habitat depends on well-trained, equipped and motivated monitoring teams to achieve rhino conservation and/or rural development goals. Further, unregulated rhino-based tourism could act as a double-edged sword by displacing the free-ranging rhinos into at-risk areas while potentially reducing reproductive performance as well as the tourism feasibility. Thus, a science-based assessment of SRT's extensive knowledge base and long-standing partnerships with government, communities and private sector tourism in the region to support capacity building for the rhino restoration and protection strategy is warranted.


Objectives of the science advisor's (funded by Minnesota Zoo) responsibilities are:


  • In collaboration with the Nambian government, Rhino Custodians, private tourism operators and SRT, initiate a communal land rhino monitoring and tourism programme;
  • Refine and help implement a new data management system for SRT that will streamline all field data into a standardised protocol to enable more effective and efficient reporting, including rhino monitoring data collected by Rhino Custodians;
  • Develop and promote conservation-based tourism models and approaches related to black rhino;
  • Conduct Rapid Black Rhino Restoration Suitability Assessments within their historical range in the northern Kunene to assist the Ministry of Environment and Tourism in prioritising conservancies for rhino translocations in 2011 and 2012;
  • Conduct GPS/mapping training modules for SRT Trackers and Conservancy Game Guards, for Ministry of Environment and Tourism staff, and for guides working with commercial tourism operators regarding data collection and monitoring; 
  • Help expand the base of support to improve financial self-sufficiency and strengthen SRT's profile and impact at the regional, national and international level.


WAZA Conservation Project 11008 is implemented by Save the Rhino Trust Namibia, with support provided by Minnesota Zoo. Other stakeholders involved in the project include The Nature Conservancy, Namibia's Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Communal Conservancies, Wilderness Safaris, Save the Rhino International and US Fish and Wildlife Rhino and Tiger Fund.




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