The black rhino in the Kunene Region of north-west Namibia is unique firstly in its adaptation to its arid environment and in that it is the only rhino species, worldwide, to have survived and increased in numbers outside of a formally-protected park. However, recently poaching in the area has escalated and so, in response, Save the Rhino Trust, Wilderness Safaris Namibia, Wilderness Trust and the Big 3 Conservancies of Anabeb, Sesfontein and Torra are addressing this threat, thanks to their long-term collaborative approach that integrates rhino monitoring, tourism activities and community participation. However, lack of funding is currently restricting their ability to ensure that the vehicle fleet dedicated to rhino monitoring – the most critical factor limiting patrol efforts across the vast, rugged landscape – is upgraded and increased in the face of escalating poaching threats. More vehicles would significantly improve the capacity to monitor and respond to the arising poaching emergencies in efforts to protect Namibia’s desert-adapted rhino.
Wilderness Trust, donor Jeffrey Neu and Nissan Pupkowitz Windhoek have donated two 4×4 vehicles to fill this critical need at a critical time. Wilderness Safaris Namibia agreed to fund the operational costs for the vehicles.
This project is part of a larger projects in the Trust’s fundraising efforts for the Save the Rhino Trust. Further details can be found here.
Coordinator: Jeff Muntifering
Organisation: Save the Rhino Trust
Qualifications: Conservation Biologist, Minnesota Zoo, USA; Science Advisor, Save the Rhino Trust, Namibia
After years of relative stability, largely external poaching pressures are mounting and threaten to return to Namibia after nearly a two-decade poaching hiatus. In the past few years, there has been a disturbing upsurge of poaching in neighbouring countries, spilling over into Namibia in late 2014.Designated as Critically Endangered on the World Conservation Union’s Red List, only some 4 000 black rhino (Diceros bicornis bicornis) remain in the wild. Namibia supports nearly one-third of the global population, with over ten percent found in Namibia’s north-west Kunene region. These desert survivors are the largest truly wild black rhino population in the world to persist on formally unprotected lands. The Palmwag Concession Area and surrounding conservancy lands of Sesfontein, Anabeb and Torra support roughly 75% of the region’s rhino within only 40% of the range. This is the heart of the region’s rhino population and one of the most vulnerable to poachers.Rhino security experts repeatedly emphasize the most important factors in any anti-poaching efforts is to minimise the ‘days to detection’ of a poaching event and to know as accurately as possible the individual rhino in the area and where they range. Such vital knowledge demands a constant field presence and persistent drive to monitor each and every rhino. Such activities have always formed the core function of a locally-grown, field-based NGO, Save the Rhino Trust (SRT).
In 2003, SRT joined forces with Wilderness Safaris Namibia to pioneer rhino-based tourism as a mechanism to secure the wild lands rhino need to survive while financing vehicle patrol efforts to deter would-be poachers. The project has been extremely successful in that tourism activities conducted through Desert Rhino Camp (DRC) has provided sustainable funding for a dedicated rhino tracking team to base from the camp while including guests in their monitoring activities. Since the camp opened in 2003, no rhinos that persist within DRC’s exclusive operating area have been poached. In addition, revenue from DRC’s popular rhino tracking activities have provided a consistent flow of financial and capacity building benefits to the surrounding conservancies which was formalised in 2012 when Wilderness Safaris signed a 20-year lease with the Big 3 to operate two camps within the Palmwag Concession.
A further commitment made by Wilderness Safaris under this agreement was to support a dedicated Conservation Manager for the Palmwag Concession Area who is expected to conduct regular patrols in the area to maintain a presence in key wildlife areas and monitor human activity. The three-way partnership has evolved into a solid foundation for which future strategy development and collaborative management can build.
In 2011, SRT and other partners spearheaded a new Rhino Ranger Programme in which participating conservancies, registered with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism as Rhino Custodians, were invited to select local community members to be trained, equipped and incentivised to conduct quality rhino patrols. Since the program’s inception, 26 new rhino rangers across 13 conservancies have joined forces and have more than doubled the number of capable field staff to conduct quality rhino patrols. The heaviest burden for rhino protection lies upon the Big 3 Rhino Ranger Teams – whose patrol areas include over 50% of the region’s rhino and form the buffer between the neighbouring local communities and the heart of the rhino population within Palmwag Concession.
The rhino poaching threat is on Namibia’s doorstep. Six rhino poaching cases were recorded in Namibia since December 2012, all of which have occurred near the north-eastern border of Palmwag Concession. The vehicle fleet dedicated to rhino monitoring now needs to be upgraded and increased, more Rhino Trackers trained and anti-poaching units formed. All these challenges are being addressed by the partners who strive to protect this unique species and its equally iconic environment.
Rhino Tracker training has been funded under another project – Save the Rhino Trust: Tracker Support.
The overall aim of the project is to improve the capacity to protect Namibia’s unique desert black rhinos by bolstering core and emergency response activities in their last great stronghold, the remote Palmwag Concession Area and surrounding conservancy lands in north-western Namibia.The addition of two vehicles will:
1. Ensure adequate mobility for rhino monitoring taking place within the Palmwag Concession
2. Strengthen general patrol efforts in high-at-risk areas within Palmwag and the surrounding buffer areas
A contribution of two new vehicles would ensure that the high standard of field-based monitoring for roughly 75% of the Kunene’s desert-adapted black rhino population in the coming years in the face of heightened poaching threats will be enhanced. It would help guarantee an effective ground presence while continue tracking the health of the rhino population, and working to continue enhancing our innovative efforts in developing and delivering responsible rhino-based tourism models. Such efforts will make sure and steady steps towards achieving our goal of securing a future for Kunene’s desert-adapted rhinos.
The vehicle contributions towards rhino protection will be measured against active field patrol goals (days) and ability to respond to emergency requests (hours after engagement). The goals set forth for the vehicle field patrol days for the DRC team and Palmwag Concession Warden are a minimum of 28 days per month and 10 days per month, respectively, or a total of nearly 500 field patrol days.The goals for response time is within two hours after receiving request for assistance the vehicle should be deployed to the area of need. Daily vehicle logs and monthly reports are being kept that track daily activity including trip description and kilometres of each vehicle.
The vehicles would operate on a cost-share basis between SRT and Wilderness Safaris Namibia. Both vehicles would be owned by SRT with operating budgets being provided by Wilderness Safaris.
Ensure adequate mobility for rhino monitoring taking place within the Palmwag Concession:
The vehicle based at DRC would continue with its regular daily patrol work but would now be much more independent and mobile with an earmarked vehicle exclusively for SRT team operation from the camp. This would ensure that a vehicle would be available at all times to ensure optimal rhino monitoring effort is achieved while emergency response capabilities are enabled.
Strengthen general patrol efforts in high-at-risk areas within Palmwag and the surrounding buffer areas:
The vehicle used for general patrols will be led by the warden of Palmwag Concession. A minimum of 10 days per month will be spent on patrol in key at-risk areas together with local community partners including game guards and Rhino Rangers from Sesfontein and Anabeb Conservancy. The focus of the patrols will not necessarily be rhino monitoring but rather monitoring human activity. The vehicle will also be on-call for emergency responses to investigate high alert poaching intelligence.
Save the Rhino Trust Namibia (SRT) and Wilderness Safaris have extended their Memorandum of Understanding to collaborate on black rhino conservation for a further five years. The partnership, which began in 2003, involves SRT providing a tracking experience for guests at Wilderness Safaris’ Desert Rhino Camp, while tourism income supports the SRT team based at the camp and includes a bednight-levy donation. The latest MoU also includes support and cooperation at Wilderness Safaris’ Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp and the Mudorib Gate.
In response to the recent upsurge in poaching in the Kunene, SRT has been tasked with initiating a proactive measure that involves trackers being deployed to monitor suspicious human activity in the rhino range. Four new trackers have been recruited from SRT’s Rhino Rangers Programme and bases were reduced from five to three to centralise control better. SRT Mai Go Ha! Base Camp has been converted into a secure operations Command Centre for the regional rhino protection effort and operations have been reorganised into two rhino patrol sections: Rhino Monitoring and Proactive Patrol (anti-poaching). These two sections are strengthened by a community outreach unit. Bolstered protection efforts have led wildlife crime syndicates to focus on other rhino populations in Namibia, but it is likely they will target the Kunene region again and SRT is well prepared for the next wave.
In February 2015, Dr Axel Hartmann, a veterinarian and SRT’s longest-standing trustee, assumed the full-time role of Chief Operations Officer. He is responsible for streamlining operations, working in close collaboration with SRT CEO Simson Uri-Khob. Additional trustees have also been identified to strengthen governance and bring further skills to the Board.
Due to increased risk and new focus on the proactive measures, SRT tracker teams no longer patrol alone and instead joint patrol teams comprise SRT trackers, Rhino Rangers, Ministry of Environment and Tourism field staff and Namibian Police and Special Field Force members. The emphasis of these patrols is to look for illegal or suspicious human activity based on a robust mapping system whereby patrol track logs can be downloaded and overlaid onto a map to determine effectiveness of area coverage.
The Kunene region is experiencing another serious drought cycle. Patchy, sparse rainfall has caused dispersal of rhino to areas with better browse, wandering into some of the critical areas in which a number of incidents have occurred in the past two years. The drought has also had a significant impact on breeding performance with recorded natural deaths outnumbering births. Coupled with the poaching outbreak, this could indicate that the Kunene black rhino population is currently in decline.
The Wilderness Wildlife Trust, in partnership with Nissan Pupkewitz, has facilitated the donation of two 4×4 vehicles to SRT to help combat the threat of poaching and secure critical black rhino populations in the Kunene region of north-west Namibia. The handover of the vehicles took place in Windhoek on 12 May 2015.
“We are extremely grateful for the ongoing support from our donor, Jeffrey Neu, and assistance from Nissan which enabled us to purchase and donate these vehicles to such an important conservation initiative. It is imperative to ensure the buy-in and support of local communities to combat any poaching threats quickly and decisively, and these new vehicles will increase SRT’s monitoring capacity and emergency response times to ensure the long-term protection of black rhino in Damaraland”, said Russel Friedman, a Trustee of the Wilderness Wildlife Trust.
The vehicles will operate on a cost-share basis between SRT and Wilderness Safaris Namibia. They will boost the already-high standard of field-based monitoring taking place for roughly 75% of the Kunene’s black rhino population and help guarantee an effective ground presence. “We will continue to closely track and monitor the health of the rhino population in Kunene and enhance our innovative efforts to develop and deliver responsible rhino-based tourism models”, Friedman added. “Such efforts will slowly but surely help towards achieving our goal of securing a future for the unique desert-adapted rhino.”
“With the ever-growing threat of poaching on our doorstep, we are proud to partner with Wilderness Safaris to support SRT and increase its vehicle fleet dedicated to rhino monitoring in Kunene. We hope that the new vehicles will assist SRT in ensuring adequate mobility for the field-based monitoring taking place within the Palmwag Concession, as well as strengthening its patrol efforts in high-risk areas within the Concession and surrounding buffer areas”, says Rayno Keys, Fleet Consultant.