At the USAID funded Combatting Wildlife Crime ‘Namibian Landscape’ meeting on 9 October, Simson Uri-Khob, the Director of Save the Rhino Trust, could point to nine rhino calves born in the last six months, and no rhinos lost to poachers in the Erongo-Kunene conservancies area. USAID is funding five African landscapes, one of which, KAZA, includes Namibia’s north-east, and another, Kunene, where the main focus is combatting wildlife crime syndicates that target rhino.
Every six months, the thirteen partners combatting wildlife crime in Namibia meet to discuss the Namibian and KAZA landscapes. Progress is reported and future activities are planned. TRAFFIC, IRDNC, NACSO’s Natural Resources Working Group, the NNF and LAC all reported, as well as Save the Rhino Trust: SRT.
Simson Uri-Khob’s presentation was good news for rhino conservation, including a tripling of the field force of trained rhino rangers who patrol daily on foot. Details of the number of patrols and their location are not published for security reasons, but they result in 80% of the known rhinos being seen every month.
While the rangers in tourism concession areas and13 conservancies keep watch over rhinos, poachers find it harder to gain access. The Namibian approach to combatting wildlife crime relies strongly upon the interest of local people in keeping rhinos safe. Many people gain an income from tourism associated with rhinos. Informants from the community are vital if poachers are to be caught before they make a kill.
Although interactions with suspects were reported to Nampol’s Protected Resources Unit and weapons were recovered, no rhinos were killed in the six-month reporting period. SRT trained rangers also counted nine surviving new calves, and note that several rhinos are pregnant.
Along with the good news came reports of challenges facing SRT: several vehicles are old and in need of replacement, and the rapid growth of the Rhino Ranger programme means that finances are stretched to the limit.
SRT reports that its success can be attributed to strong working relationships with IRDNC and the NNF, with law enforcement, and especially with the communities which live with and protect rhinos.
The meeting ended with a presentation by Dr Mike Knight, who has joined WWF as its Transboundary Leader to coordinate WWF’s work with KAZA, the Kavango Zambezi Transboundary Conservation Area.
Dr Knight is also the Chairperson of the IUCN’s Rhino Specialist Group. His overview of rhino conservation in Africa was sobering, but also hopeful. In southern Africa, including the Kruger National Park, rhino births outnumber mortalities, including wildlife crime – but only just. Efforts such as the USAID Combating Wildlife Crime Program are starting to have an effect, especially in Namibian conservancies, but criminals continue to kill rhinos in park landscapes in large numbers, and last year the first ranger was killed in South Africa.
Knight echoed the evidence given by TRAFFIC: Partners combatting wildlife crime worldwide need to target the criminals higher up the chain, and he showed a photo of a South African criminal caught with 3 million Rands in his car boot. “Follow the money” is the motto, to catch the crime kingpins. Trying to end the demand for horn in China and Vietnam is another strategy.
In Namibia, efforts will continue to prevent crime and to keep the rhino scorecard positive.