In March 2020, Save the Rhino Trust (SRT) hosted its first ever Kunene Rhino Awards ceremony, in recognition of the Rangers that continue to sacrifice much of their time and energy to protect one of the world’s last remaining free-roaming black rhino populations.
In other parts of Namibia, the poaching crisis that started in 2012 continues, although the rate of poaching for both elephant and rhino has slowed in the last few years. The decline is partly due to the initiation of the Combatting Wildlife Crime Program in 2016 which has provided critical resources to strengthen and expand local stewardship in rhino protection. An amazing achievement is that, in the 25,000km2 landscape comprising communal conservancies in northwest Namibia, the poacher’s gun has not claimed a rhino for over two and a half years.
As this success has been observed internationally, many have wondered how this was achieved for such a long duration of time for a seemingly vulnerable population surviving almost entirely outside of a formally protected area. While proving any singular activity is directly responsible for a reduction in such a complex problem like poaching is extremely difficult, there is little doubt that the massive increase in patrol effort and associated rhino sightings has been central to the success. Importantly, these increases have been driven by the dramatic expansion in collaboration and unique partnerships forged between government, police, traditional authorities, NGOs, private sector tourism and communal conservancies.
To honour these achievements, the event recognized more than 60 rangers from SRT, Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation and several conservancies by awarding more than 200 prizes such as medals, equipment, pins and custom ‘Rhino Hero’ jackets across more than a dozen performance categories. Awards ranged from best photos taken during patrols, the best patrol effort, the best rhino sighting, the most courteous driver, the best ranger, and a special award for bravery - awarded to two female rangers who recently joined the programme. A prize was given to the ranger that had walked the most kilometres while tracking and monitoring rhinos (2,439 kilometres), and another award was given to the ranger that had the most verified (with date/time stamped photos) rhino sightings for 2019 with 375 sightings.
Since its inception in 1982, SRT’s rhino monitoring approach has a strong leaning towards inclusion of local communities in the monitoring effort. The evolution of SRT’s approach is exemplified through the Conservancy rhino ranger programme, an innovative approach which trains, equips and enables community rangers to monitor rhino. At SRT we understand that when communities take ownership of their environment, much can be achieved. The current success for rhino in the north-west is testament to this.
Finally, a big THANK YOU to all the Rangers, without you none of this is possible.