One of Save the Rhino Trust Namibia’s (SRT) largest-ever grants came from SOS - Save Our Species for the calendar year 2012. Through this grant, SRT was able to enhance its Field Patrolling and Monitoring Programme and continue its valuable contribution towards the ongoing protection of the unique free-ranging, desert-adapted population of the South western subspecies of black rhino (Diceros bicornis bicornis). Reflecting on the outcomes from the project to date and rhino conservation in general, SRT spoke with SOS.
SOS: How did the project perform in terms of its ongoing proactive monitoring and anti-poaching patrols?
SRT: The SOS grant part-sponsored Save the Rhino Trust’s (SRT) Field Patrolling and Monitoring Programme for 2012. During that period, Save the Rhino Trust achieved some impressive results. Key accomplishments included 357 poaching free days from 1 January to 23 December 2012. But these are anxious times for rhino programmes everywhere.
SOS: Why is Namibia more successful than South Africa when it comes to anti-poaching activities?
SRT: This is a question SRT is repeatedly asked and the truthful answer is: we do not know and we cannot say for sure. It is true SRT Namibia’s achievements contrast starkly with South Africa’s statistics where 1,449 rhinos have been poached since 2010 and 668 in 2012 alone. In fact, according to IUCN experts, rhino poaching across Africa increased by 43% between 2011 and 2012. That represents a loss of almost 3% of the population just in 2012. If poaching continues to increase at this rate, rhino populations could start to decline in less than two years’ time. The reality of the situation on the ground is that SRT and all rhino stakeholders in Namibia live in fear of the organised crime syndicates turning their focus on Namibia once they have exhausted their South African supply of horn (or perhaps even earlier). SRT believes that it has some strong points in its favour, but we do not claim to have the ultimate answer.
SOS: Empowering community seems to be a key part of Namibia’s success.
SRT: Yes, indeed. The Namibian Government’s very successful Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) programme, which granted communities the right of custodianship over wildlife in their area, has played a significant role in developing a sense of ownership over important wildlife assets. This, in turn, is an extra line of defense against poaching. SRT has been a constant presence on the ground for 30 years and has built long-standing relationships with key people in local communities. We believe that community involvement and loyalty are vital ingredients to holding future poaching activity at bay. However, preparedness is equally critical: preparedness for the possibility of future organised crime onslaughts on Namibia’s rhino.
SOS: What are the keys to this in your opinion and experience?
SRT: It takes the coordination of all parts of the community to achieve what we are accomplishing in Namibia: conservationists, community members, media, government, and legal structures. Still there is the threat from international crime which is a bigger issue. But we can do something about that too- we can engage with people around the world and inspire them for example through experiential learning about rhinos and the impact of poaching for rhino horn and of course compelling messages that cut-through the media noise appeal to the heart and head.