Art. # 198
30 YEARS OF SUCCESSFUL SUSTAINABLE RHINO CONSERVATION
Namibia leads with largest wild Black Rhino population
Text by Stefan Rust
Photos by Birgit Leicher
(In terms of the Geneva Convention the copyright of these texts belongs to Stefan Rust)
(Noteworthy! BirdsConTour, being a bird conservation organization, interacts with rhino conservation because rhinos help to maintain grassland areas, an important habitat to many birds.)
The 20th century kicked off with 500 000 rhinoceros (abbreviated as rhino) worldwide. Numbers dropped to 70 000 in 1970 and fell critically to about 29 000 in the wild today, mainly due to the continuing threat of poaching for their valuable horns.
Traded for an estimated $65 000/kg (± N$655 000/kg) on the black market, some cultures use the rhino horn, consisting out of nothing else but keratin, for ornamental or, in the form of powder, for traditional medicinal purposes.
There are five extant rhino species on earth. The White Rhinoceros (Square-lipped Rhinoceros / Ceratotherium simum) and the Black Rhinoceros (Hook-lipped Rhinoceros / Diceros bicornis) live in Africa and together with the Sumatran Rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) these have each two horns, whereas the Indian Rhinoceros (Greater one-horned Rhino / Rhinoceros unicornis) and the Javan Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) have a single horn.
The Javan Rhino, 35-45, Sumatran Rhino, <100, and the Black Rhino, 5 055, are identified as critically endangered. The White Rhino shows a world population of 20 405 and the Indian Rhino 3 333.
But despite this bleak picture rhino figures in Namibia (as well as in some other parts of the world) have been increasing in recent years. Thanks to the Save the Rhino Trust (SRT), founded in 1982, and some other supporters such as the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), WWF, communities and various other collaborators, Namibia today writes a success story in rhino conservation, Black Rhino numbers have since then increased five-fold. Among others an easy but effective method, offering rhino poachers a more secure livelihood as wildlife guards, led Namibia today, after 30 years of hard work, commitment and large amounts of money, to be known as home to the largest wild roaming Black Rhino population on earth.
With these years of experience in successful sustainable rhino conservation and the purpose of raising funds for rhino conservation, the Namibian government agreed that a permit, to trophy hunt an old geriatric Black Rhino bull, that is marginalized in the population and does not contribute to reproduction anymore, got auctioned recently by the Dallas Safari Club, Texas.
Under natural circumstances, such as in the case of the Kunene region in Namibia where the Black Rhino thrives, such old bulls are overtaken by younger, stronger and healthy rivals, following the rule of nature – survival of the fittest – in order to maintain an in all aspects vital Rhino population. By all means it is the duty and responsibility of us conservationists to not only protect rhinos from poachers but also to support nature in its origin to keep a population healthy and this costs huge amounts of money.
However, it is important to keep an eye that the money gained from the “Dallas Rhino Project” gets used for the according purpose. Even more important is that local and international conservationists become more judgmental about situations in which for example 30 rhinos have been lost being killed through unprofessional attempts of responsible authorities to extinguish a fire in the Namibian Etosha National Park three years ago.
Likewise it didn’t seem to bother any rhino conservationist when the Namibian government gave rhinos away as a gift to Cuba last year, knowing that these will lead a miserable existence in a zoo in Cuba. This is definitely not sustainable rhino conservation!
Namibia needs the rhinos on its own land where they are indigenous, not in a zoo in Cuba, and Namibia needs them alive, not dead because of ignorance or unprofessionalism, so that the treasury of the Namibian, not Cuban, tourism sector can be filled by visitors (tourists) paying a lot of money to experience alive rhinos.
Rhinos help to maintain grassland
Just as much Namibia’s nature need a vital rhino population in order for the rhinos to fulfill their ecological duty, namely to maintain grassland, an habitat essential for the survival of many other animals such as cheetah, common ostrich and Kori Bustard, the Bird of the Year 2014 in Namibia, the flagship for grassland protection, considering that already 26 million hectares, more than 80% of the Namibian surface, is encroached by bush.
Furthermore it is a pity that animals must suffer when, for example, foreign support of different anti poaching units of a country get deprived because in the eyes of the supporters the concerned state government behaves politically incorrect.