Rhinos

Black Rhino Conservation in Namibia

Rhinos

Black rhinos are gentle giants — herbivores who do not kill except in self-defense. Seeing them amble around the savannah in search of roots and grasses to chew on or water to drink is a quintessential African experience. Sadly, it’s an experience that our grandchildren may never have, as black rhinos (alongside their white and Asian cousins) are critically endangered and increasingly under threat.

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Black rhinos have no natural predators, except for man. However, the black rhino population is down 97% since 1960, reaching an all-time low of just 2,300 individuals in 1993. Three black rhino species were declared extinct in 2011.

Now, thanks to extensive black rhino conservation efforts across Africa, their population has risen to over 5,500, 98% of which is concentrated in four countries – South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Namibia.

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Black Rhino Facts

Black rhinos are not actually black. Just like white rhinos, they vary in color between brown and grey. The distinction between these two African rhino species is due to the shape of their upper lip. White rhinos have a wide, square upper lip, while the lip of black rhinos is narrow and pointed. The word “wide” in Afrikaans is wyd, which was misinterpreted as meaning white, and black rhinos got their name by contrast.

There’s one thing both rhino species have in common: They face extinction due to the rise in poaching. Rhinos have been hunted since 1200 BC for their horn (which was used to make wine cups and ceremonial daggers) and skin (to make armor). But rhino poaching exploded in the late 20th century due to the use of rhino horn in traditional Chinese medicine.

Ground up rhino horn has been fallaciously touted as a cure for cancer, impotence, hangover and fevers. But rhino horns are made of keratin– the same material as our fingernails and hair. The AWF famously argued that “rhino horn is as effective at curing cancer as chewing on your fingernails.”

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Black Rhino Conservation in Namibia

The black rhino population in Namibia reached a critically low number in the 1980s due to aggressive poaching and a prolonged drought, which caused habitat loss. Save the Rhino Trust was established in 1982 in Namibia’s Kunene area, a remote and hard-to-access mountainous desert region.

When Blythe and Rudi Loutit moved to the Skeleton Coast, they were horrified to learn that the local black rhino population had dwindled to less than 30 individuals. Many corpses were found with horns ripped off by poachers. Botanical artist Blythe and her husband created Save the Rhino Trust to help conserve the local species, the desert-adapted black rhino.

Tackling poaching was their first priority. With rhino horns fetching tens of thousands of dollars per pound, they needed to find alternative employment for poachers. Many were hired to be trackers and wildlife guards. The program was largely successful, and the black rhino population in the Kunene area has since quintupled in size.

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Rhino Conservation and Tourism

In 2003, SRT opened Desert Rhino Camp, an ecotourism initiative designed to support black rhino conservation efforts. Support of local communities is essential to responsible ecotourism: it’s necessary to ensure that conserving wildlife is more economically beneficial than poaching. So SRT established a revenue-sharing system with the local communities, and offered them opportunities for employment.

SRT also worked to develop a tourism model that minimized the chances of any rhino disturbance that could lead to their displacement. Rhinos tend to avoid areas with high vehicle traffic, so SRT kept their visitor numbers low. They divided the tourist area into sections and rotated tourist traffic between them in order to give the rhinos “rest days.” Thanks to this approach, no rhinos have been displaced.

Since 2007, local communities have received over $500,000 through tourism-related revenue-sharing programs. The SRT model proves that responsible ecotourism has the potential to conserve endangered species while providing benefits to locals.

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Visiting Desert Rhino Camp

Desert Rhino Camp strongly believes in The 4Cs – commerce, community, conservation and culture. Commerce refers to the creation of a sustainable business model, and one of their key values is giving back to the community via revenue-sharing and charitable initiatives.

Desert Rhino Camp is set in a fragile desert environment, so special attention was given to minimize environmental impact. Showers are heated by solar power and waste water is broken down with the use of eco-friendly systems.

Accommodation consists of eight raised luxury tents, with verandas offering sweeping views over the Etendeka Mountains. The dining tents have open sides offering panoramic views, and there is a swimming pool to cool off in after a day of rhino tracking. Evening meals are often served under the stars, around the fire pit.

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There’s a wealth of activities available at Desert Rhino Camp. The most popular activity on International Expeditions' Namibia safaris at the camp is definitely rhino tracking alongside guides and conservationists from SRT. You can also opt for game drives to take in the rest of the Big Five, and full-day outings with picnic lunch to explore this desert wonderland while searching out wildlife.

It’s possible to take nature walks to take a closer look at smaller plants and animals that have adapted to the harsh conditions of the desert. Birdwatchers are well catered to, with special outings to explore the bird life of the area.

Whether it’s your first or tenth time to Africa, a stay at Desert Rhino Camp will contribute to the ongoing struggle against black rhino poaching, so that our grandchildren will one day be able to see these gentle giants in real life.

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