Project update: DSWF visits Save the Rhino Trust
David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) takes responsibility for the funds that you donate to us for conservation projects, and where possible, our team will visit a project for first-hand evidence that the impact of your funding is being maximised, so that we can report directly back to you the change you are personally helping us to achieve.
In February 2019, Karen Botha (DSWF CEO), Peanut Lamb (DSWF Head of Policy and Programmes) and Emily Lamb (DSWF Art Ambassador and artist) visited the Save the Rhino Trust (SRT) in Namibia.
The mid-1980s bore witness to the savage slaughter of wildlife in Africa and particularly of the black rhino which suffered a catastrophic 98% decline throughout its historic range across Africa. The world’s last remaining truly wild population of desert-adapted rhino, together with the desert elephant, was facing extinction. Rhino numbers were reduced to approximately 30 animals in the remote landscape of Kunene province.
In 1994, our founder David Shepherd chose to fund SRT in the Kunene and Erongo Region – fast forward 25 years and our team is delighted to report back to you, our donors, on our most recent visit to the project in February 2019.
As is always the case in conservation, success is built upon the unfaltering dedication and unwavering commitment to the cause and animal. The inspiring Namibian-born CEO Simson Uri-Khob has worked with the Trust since 1991, beginning his career for the organisation as a ranger, now leading a world class field-based team including, to name just a few, Director of Field Operations, Lesley Karutjaiva, Science Advisor Dr Jeff Muntifering and Tommy, SRT’s intelligence-led law enforcement unit.
The field-based team is ably backed up by brave rangers and incredible trackers for whom the environment can be easily interpreted, and to whom the rocky terrain can be read like a book. It is difficult to impart how impressive this skill is without adequately describing the lunar like landscape in which they work and their ability to track wild black rhinos and other species living in the area across vast featureless plains of rock and stones.
This project is attracting attention across the world, for all the right reasons.
Namibia’s Save the Rhino Trust has recorded zero deaths of the desert-adapted black rhino in the last 18 months as a result of poaching. This is even more remarkable given that this area does not enjoy National Park protection and there is no fence line to patrol and monitor. This population of desert-adapted black rhino truly are one of the last surviving wild populations in the world, a responsibility their wildlife guardians bravely acknowledge and accept.
In addition, there has been a baby boom with unprecedented recordings of black rhino births, much to the delight of the trackers and rangers who have come to know the animals so well over the years. Our DSWF-adopted Inka is also now a proud parent of a beautiful healthy calf seen late last year for the first time.
Again, this success is hard to truly articulate without being able to adequately describe the vast landscape of 25,000 km2 protected by the SRT project by so few trackers and rangers, the incredibly hostile lunar-like terrain and the constant heat during the days averaging 40°C+.
Just 30 trackers and 53 rhino rangers, with support from the Namibian Police, protect this vast stretch of an isolated province, 24 hours each and every day on long operational shifts of up to 20 days at a time in the field.
The legacy of the SRT field-based work is the scientific contribution of the project to improving knowledge and understanding of the desert-adapted black rhino which informs planning and management strategies for its conservation.
Using the best technologies available, the confidential data collected by the teams on the ground is maximised to further develop the Rhino Viewing Protocol and to strengthen the working relationship with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and other stakeholders to improve rhino-related tourism practices, particularly related to human wildlife conflict.
We were fortunate to be on site when a Rhino Pride meeting took place, a joint collaboration to engage with youth groups between SRT, local conservancies and IRDNC (Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation).
We were truly impressed listening to youths from two conservancies discussing the issues they face with inter-generational attitudes to wildlife and natural resource and how they intend to develop their group engagement with youths in other conservancies. SRT attribute a good amount of the success in recent years to their work with the communities, and the dynamic relationship that exists between all of the stakeholders.
Having also had the opportunity to meet with project Trustees whilst in Namibia, clearly SRT enjoys strong governance with Trustees who are wholly invested in the project, and in Namibia.
Overall, we were struck by the high level of collaboration in Namibia between NGO’s, conservancies, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Namibian Police and law enforcement agencies and tourism enterprises.
Whilst there are no doubt successes under this exceptional team, what is very clear is that there cannot be room for complacency, not even for a few hours.
The international illegal wildlife trade is a £15 billion industry with rhino horn valued at US$60,000/ kg, making it more valuable on the black market than cocaine and gold. And therein lays the problem.
Every single day presents new and ongoing threats to this wild black rhino population. SRT fights a highly dangerous daily battle to maintain critical pressure on poachers, the undercover operations team are working often throughout the night to head off would-be poachers before they can get near an animal, community engagement in the conservancies takes place seven days a week, tracking and monitoring wild rhinos continues every single day.
And this level of pressure must continue for the foreseeable future to protect this iconic species.
We cannot afford to divert attention from the protection that this project offers to the desert adapted black rhino. The truth is that SRT needs many more boots on the ground to cover the huge areas described in this report if they are to succeed in the long term, under growing pressure and poaching threats, to save the black rhino.
The tide is currently being stemmed by persistent and brave efforts from the dedicated and professional SRT team but the situation remains critical and we need your support more than ever to help SRT to continue to do what they do. Please help us protect rhinos by donating here.