Celebrating World Rhino Day

Protecting our rhinos

22 September 2020 | Environment

Pohamba Shifeta; Minister of environment; “…innovative initiatives and dedication to safeguarding rhinos puts Namibia firmly in the position as a global leader in rhino conservation.”

Namibia joins the rest of the world in celebrating World Rhino Day today (22 September).

The minister of environment, forestry and tourism (MEFT) Pohamba Shifeta said his ministry takes pride in the fact that Namibia is home to the largest population of black rhino of the subspecies Diceros bicornis bicornis in the world.

The country has a third of the entire remaining black rhino on the planet and the second largest white rhino population in the world, after South Africa. Namibia also has the largest population of black rhinos within a protected area and the largest free roaming black rhino population in the world.

“Approximately 93% of the total population of this taxon are found in Namibia (as at 31 December 2019) and rhino numbers are increasing steadily under a well-established and innovative conservation and management program,” Shifeta said.

He added that Namibia’s Black and White Rhinoceros Conservation Strategies concentrates on maximizing population growth rates.

“The strategy’s vision is that by 2030, both species of rhino are re-established in viable, healthy breeding populations throughout their former range, and is sustainably utilised. The overall goal is a commitment to collectively manage the rhinos of Namibia as a meta-population.”

Poaching

Despite these achievements, Namibia’s rhino conservation remains challenged by incidences of poaching.

“This is even though Namibia has seen a decline in poaching numbers as a result of ongoing interventions by government, communal conservancies, private custodians and NGOs. However, poaching patterns are highly dynamic and any amount of poaching remains a major concern to the ministry,” Shifeta said.

The minister pointed out that in this regard, MEFT and its partners have carried out a series of pro-active measures designed to prevent poaching.

“Recent areas of concern are the custodian program, Kunene and private white rhino populations which necessitates further preventative measures. Namibia has recorded 22 rhinos being poached to date this year; 46 in 2019; 78 in 2018; 55 in 2017 and 61 in 2016.”

Shifeta said that the ministry’s best strategy for 2020-21 (continued from 2014) is to dehorn as many rhinos as possible in poaching hotspots.

“It is also necessary to translocate rhino out of high-risk areas to safer locations, thus establishing new populations and supplementing existing populations to stimulate growth and manage density-dependent factors.”

Law enforcement

Law enforcement and intelligence has been key in reducing the threat of poaching.

A new division was created at the ministry to deal exclusively with wildlife protection, intelligence and investigations.

“The newly established MEFT K9 unit continues to gain success and has been issued with a state of the art, fully kitted vehicle with trailer sponsored by Standard Bank and other local donors. The unit is now permanently deployed in Etosha National Park and more units are planned for the future,” explained the minister.

National security forces were also deployed in the Etosha National Park to counter rhino poaching.

“Collaborative task forces between the Protected Resources Division of the Namibian Police Force and the Intelligence and Investigation Unit of MEFT have proven extremely successful. These collaborations have managed to shift law enforcement from reactive to proactive. Instead of the discovery of a dead rhino initiating an investigation, would-be poachers are now regularly arrested while they are still conspiring to kill a rhino,” the minister said.

According to the minister, 30% of the 88 arrests related to rhinos were pre-emptive arrests of suspects conspiring to poach — before they had managed a kill during the first half of this year.

In 2019, 68 pre-emptive arrests were made out of a total of 131. Close collaboration with the prosecution is also leading to convictions with appropriate sentences.

Six perpetrators were convicted in May 2020 in two cases of conspiring to poach rhinos.

Endangered species

The black rhino has been listed as Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN 2012) since 1996.

Between 2012 and 2018, the Black Rhino population in Africa has grown at a modest annual rate of 2.5% from an estimated 4 845 to 5 630 animals in the wild, respectively.

“Population models predict a further slow increase over the next five years. One subspecies of the black rhino, the south-western black rhino (D. b. bicornis) — previously assessed as Vulnerable — has seen sufficient population growth over the last three generations to be newly categorised as Near Threatened (IUCN 2020). The future of the south-western subspecies and black rhino in general therefore largely depends on Namibia’s ability to maintain adequate standards of protection and biological management for growth,” said the minister.

Shifeta highlighted that Namibia has a three-pronged approach, which is strengthening law enforcement, strategic biological management and enhancing collaboration with local communities.

“These initiatives and dedication to safeguarding rhinos, puts Namibia firmly in the position as a global leader for rhino conservation,” he concluded.

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