Save the Rhino Trust
Save the Rhino Trust
Founded in 1982, Save the Rhino Trust’s teams of dedicated trackers assists Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism in protecting the desert-adapted black rhino (Diceros bicornis bicornis) in the Kunene and Erongo regions of Namibia. This unique, desert-adapted population is the only rhino population worldwide living on communal land without formal conservation status.
SRT serves as a critical, constant resence on ground to deter poachers. The rhino population has increased to five times its size since the Trust was formed over 30 years ago. SRT has teams of specialised trackers as well as research staff and game guards and its headquarters is a hub for local community involvement and enterprise.
Camel Team Trackers
For millions of years, the desert rhino and elephant have roamed the harsh desert plains and rugged mountains of one of the most isolated corners of Africa; the Kunene region in north western Namibia. The camels and donkeys of Save the Rhino Trust are used by the tracking teams to monitor and gather data on the desert rhinos across the more difficult terrain which is inaccessible by vehicle.
The Kunene region is divided into 13 “Eco-zones”, each with varying topography, climate and nutrient availability. SRT employs four teams of trackers to cover these regions on a monthly rotational basis, identifying and monitoring individual rhino as well as acting as a deterrent to poachers in the area. Each patrol consists of a four or five man team of professional trackers from the local Damara/Herero communities, who patrol on foot, by vehicle or using camels and donkeys. The patrols regularly go out into the most remote parts of the Palmwag Concession in search of the rare desert-adapted rhino.
The camels and donkeys are used as pack animals allowing trackers to undertake extended patrols to reach areas that are impossible to access by any other means (35% of the rhino’s range is inaccessible by vehicle), and often under very difficult conditions, perform an absolutely invaluable service for SRT's conservation effort.
Although the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) employs a Wildlife Protection Service (WPS) on communal farmland, the area requiring their attention is vast. The majority of their time is spent attending to problem animals (such as elephants and lions) on communal farms, and they simply do not have the resources to provide full protection across the rhino’s range. If SRT’s tracker presence was to cease, the rhino population would immediately become vulnerable, with every chance that poaching would again become a major threat. SRT conducts joint patrols with staff from MET in an effort to enhance the monitoring and patrolling effort and as a means of transferring SRT’s skills, knowledge and experience gained over almost 30 years of monitoring this rhino population. Teamwork with all stakeholders is key to the long-term survival of these rhino – the largest concentration of black rhino on earth to roam free on unfenced land that has no formal conservation status.
Linking Conservation and Economic Development
As a significant employer in the Kunene region, SRT continues to make an effort to link the conservation of the environment to the prosperity of the local community, ensuring reduction of human-wildlife conflict and long-term sustainability. A training programme for community game guards in the conservancies surrounding SRT’s core operational area ensures that these rhino ‘custodians’ have the necessary knowledge and skills to monitor the rhino in their care.
The camel team project funded by Tusk employs seven community-based trackers, one camel hand, and one female administrator/field cook, who live with their families at Mbakondja Camel station. The camel station has staff houses, a food and saddle store, a small office with radio link, and a water installation. Curios produced by the staff or their family members are also sold through a curio shop at the main base camp.
Tusk aims to provide annual support to the monitoring teams, in particular the Camel Monitoring Team. This helps to cover the operating costs for the team of 10 camels and their game guards to monitor rhino across the Kunene region, much of which is inaccessible by vehicle.
For the SRT rhino scouts, it’s a tough job that requires years of experience and close-knit teamwork. It’s dangerous too – the trackers regularly encounter lion, leopard, snakes and elephant whilst out on patrol. The team is out in the field for most of the month. Day in and day out they get to know the rhino by their individual names but, more importantly, create a constant on-the-ground presence to deter poaching.
This project is a success story of true dedication and commitment over more than three decades, resulting in a black rhino population that is five times larger than it was in 1982 when the Trust was founded.