Region: Kunene Region, Namibia
25 years ago, as a result of poaching, the black rhino (Diceros bicornis bicornis) teetered on the edge of extinction. In response, Save the Rhino Trust, a non-governmental organisation, was formed and, together with local communities, succeeded in eliminating poaching in the Kunene region of Namibia. Today north-west Namibia holds the largest unfenced population of black rhino in Africa.
In September 2005, a black rhino workshop was held in Grootberg, north-west Namibia, among different stakeholders, where different research needs for black rhino were identified – amongst them, the need to research the habitat of the black rhino on a local scale. This project aims to explore the use of habitat by the black rhino within its range, taking into account plant density, diversity, composition of trees and shrubs, and investigate the influence of terrain on both the vegetation and on the black rhinos.
To date Save the Rhino Trust (SRT) has location data (GPS) for individual rhinos in the north-west and understands the habitat on a large scale. The study found that rhinos were more likely to occur in areas that were close to springs, further away from human habitation, and areas of higher altitudes. The availability of good plant browse was seen as a major influence on black rhino distribution but there have been no local scale, floristic studies of vegetation based on the known black rhino range. The main objective of this study is to answer this by characterising black rhino habitat use and suitability within their current range based on a local scale vegetation study. The Namibian Black Rhino Assessment, carried out by M.Sc. student, Basilia Shivute, therefore explored the use of habitat by the black rhino within its range, taking into account plant density, diversity, composition of trees and shrubs, and investigated the influence of terrain on both the vegetation and on the black rhinos.
The location data for individual rhinos will be pooled and used to calculate the size of each home range, and therefore determine the various parts of the area that are “high use”, “low use” or “no use” areas of the individual rhinoceros. Within these the composition of plants, their diversity, types, height, and density, and where they are found will all be observed.
The project will aid in determining suitable habitats for black rhino within potential reintroduction sites. It also aims to establish a means of rapid monitoring of black rhino habitat, which can be incorporated into Save the Rhino Trust (SRT) monitoring programme. Finally, the study will add to the much-needed vegetation diversity database in these areas.
The beneficiaries of the project include the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (aiding in their reintroduction programmes), local community, local guides and tour operators in adding to their knowledge, and the Save the Rhino Trust in helping the Trust to establish a means of rapid monitoring of their rare charges.
2008 – Project Summary
The black rhino of north-western Namibia is a desert-adapted sub-species (Diceros bicornis bicornis) restricted to a narrow 20 000km2 range in the Kunene region. Due to uncontrolled poaching and a devastating drought in the early 1980s, this sub-population crashed to less than 50 individuals. Through innovative conservation measures, particularly eliminating the poaching pressure, the population is slowly recovering. To bolster this process, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism in Namibia has initiated an ambitious programme to translocate black rhino into areas within their historic range.
As an aid to this programme, a multi-scale habitat assessment for black rhinos based on vegetation and environmental relationship analyses was completed through April – June 2006 in the Kunene Region, north-western Namibia. Three study sites were selected: Palmwag Concession, Torra Conservancy and #Khoadi //Hoas Conservancy. At a local scale, data on plant species name, richness and browse availability were collected and analysed. At a landscape level, the significance of environmental variables in the low and high probability of habitats used by black rhino in the Palmwag concession was also investigated.
Analysis on species diversity, richness and composition and browse availability illustrated a significant difference among the sampled sites as well as the different habitats. Torra Conservancy exhibited significantly higher species diversity and richness than #Khoadi //Hoas Conservancy. #Khoadi //Hoas Conservancy exhibited higher browse availability than in Torra and Palmwag Concessions. Canonical Correspondence Analysis showed that elevation and rainfall significantly influenced browse availability of selected plant species, but slope was insignificant.
At a landscape level, this study found that areas closer to major rivers, perennial springs, higher rainfall, elevation and slope characterised black rhino high use habitat. However the probability of a habitat being used by black rhinos could also be attributed to other underlying factors such as slope, hydrology, soil moisture, soil properties, soil nutrients and land use patterns and these warrant further investigation.
This study provides fundamental habitat information to guide black rhino reintroductions into communal conservancies. This study recommends further research into browse availability in other communal conservancies that are possible rhino reintroduction sites. This study also recommends research into factors which, individually or through interaction, influence the browse availability and therefore habitat use by black rhinos in north-western Namibia.
Penultimate Report January 2007
This study was carried out in the Kunene Region, an area of about 144,255 km2, where tourism has been identified as a key sector development for the region. Three sites were selected within the Region: Palmwag Concession, ≠Koadi //Hoas Conservancy and Torra Conservancy. These areas were selected on the basis that Palmwag concession and Torra conservancy contain at least 90% of black rhino in north-west Namibia, while #Koadi //Hoas is earmarked as a reintroduction site, with a reintroduction trial already started.
Species diversity, richness, composition, and browse availability were analysed in relation to environmental variables such as rainfall, slope and distance to major rivers or perennial springs.
The study found that black rhinos utilise areas of higher elevations, areas of closer proximity to major rivers and perennial springs, areas of higher rainfall range and areas with steeper slopes. Closer proximities to water sources emphasise the importance of water in an arid environment like north-west Namibia.
This study highlighted the variation of species diversity, richness, and composition in different main habitats as well as in different geographic locations. It has also therefore formed a foundation to guide creation of multiple, black rhino habitat suitability models across their historical range to prioritise optimal sites for translocation.
The project may also establish a means of rapid monitoring of black rhino habitat, which can be incorporated into Save the Rhino Trust (SRT) monitoring programme. Moreover, the study has added to the much-needed vegetation diversity database in these areas.