Namibia’s Black Rhinos in the Wild & in Preserves

West African country protects highly threatened species & other wildlife

Namibia-mapSome 15 years ago, my husband, my son, a friend and I ventured to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. After the thrilling climb, we and a local Arusha guide set off to see wildlife. We visited four national parks and preserves and saw many, many elephants, giraffes, lions, cheetahs, wildebeest, zebras, Cape buffalo,  dik-diks, springbok, baboons, hyenas, warthogs and even a handful of hippos at closer range than we could have imagined. In a sense, our most thrilling sighting was in Ngorongoro Crater, where off in the distance, slowly rising from the high tawny grass were two long, dark shapes — identifiable only through strong binoculars or with a very long camera lens. Black rhinos, our guide told us, among the last in the country. We thrilled to see them and mourned what seemed like extinction in the not-too-distant future.

Two black rhinos in Tanzania's Ngorgoro Crater in 1997.
Two black rhinos in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater in 1997. The rhinos are in the center of the picture. The black shapes on the right are something else.

According to Save the Rhino, an international species conservation organization, “At the beginning of the 20th century there were 500,000 rhinos across Africa and Asia; in 1970 there were 70,000; today, there are fewer than 29,000 rhinos  surviving in the wild. Between 1970 and 1992, large-scale poaching  caused a dramatic 96% collapse in numbers of the Critically Endangered  black rhino. 95% of all the rhinos in the world have now been killed.”

The organization believes that there are now 20,165 white rhinos and just 4,880 black rhinos in Africa. According to a chart compiled in late 2010, Namibia is home to some 1,750 of these rare animals, second only to South Africa. In the all of Tanzania, only 113 black rhinos remained. In fact, it boasts the largest free-roaming population of black rhinos and cheetahs in the world and is the only country with an expanding population of free-roaming lions. That, to me is a signal to move Namibia way up on my bucket list.

Conservation: It’s the Law

Namibia was the first African country to incorporate protection of the environment into its constitution, and the government has reinforced this by giving its communities the opportunity and rights to manage their wildlife through communal conservancies. After Independence in 1990, visionary conservationists in the field and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism enacted policies that allowed rural communities to benefit from wildlife by forming conservancies.  In 1998, the first four conservancies were registered. Today, 65 registered conservancies embrace one in four rural Namibians. A sense of ownership over wildlife and other resources is encouraging people to use their resources sustainably. Wildlife is now embraced as a complimentary land use method to agriculture and livestock herding. More than 40 percent of Namibia’s surface area is under conservation management — national parks and reserves, communal and commercial conservancies, community forests and private nature reserves.

Where to See Black Rhinos

Namibia offers a variety of adventures that feature the black rhino. All that remains is the time, the budget and the decision as to which to choose. Etosha National Park in the northern part of the country is an exemplary wildlife habitat. Its many waterholes attract endangered black rhinoceros, plus lion, elephant and large numbers of antelope. Etosha’s three well-established rest camps within the park (Okaukuejo, Halali and Namutoni), plus a host of private lodges on its borders, offer visitors a wide choice of safari options. Noteworthy is a floodlit waterhole at Okaukuejo and Fort Namutoni, previously the northernmost German outpost and now a rest camp, where visitors can view night-drinking creatures.

Game drives in Namibia provide drive-up access to the rare black rhino.
Game drives in Namibia provide drive-up access to the rare black rhino.

Palmwag Lodging & Campsite features thatched cottages and boasts a healthy population of elephants and desert adapted black rhino, under the management of the Save the Rhino Trust (SRT), moving freely around the concession Desert Rhino Camp is a tent camp that offers include rhino tracking on foot or by vehicle. Damarland Camp, owned and largely run by the local community winner of the 2005 WTTC Tourism for Tomorrow Conservation Award, where black rhino sightings are not assured but are possible.

Namibia’s Pioneering Conservation Efforts

Namibia was the first African country to incorporate protection of the environment into its constitution — something that neither the U.S. nor individual states have ever seen fit to do. The Namibian government has reinforced this by giving its communities the opportunity and rights to manage their wildlife through communal conservancies. Today, more than 40 percent of Namibia’s surface area is under conservation management including national parks and reserves, communal and commercial conservancies, community forests, and private nature reserves.

After Independence in 1990, visionary conservationists in the field and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism enacted policy changes that allowed rural communities to benefit from wildlife by forming conservancies.  In 1998, the first four conservancies were registered. Today, 65 registered conservancies embrace one in four rural Namibians. A sense of ownership over wildlife and other resources encourages people to use their resources sustainably. Wildlife is now embraced as a complimentary land use method to agriculture and livestock herding. People are living with wildlife, including predators and large mammals, and are managing their natural resources wisely. They are also reaping the benefits. In 2009, community-based natural resource management generated over N$ 42 million in income to rural Namibians — and that numbers has surely increased.

All the while, the program is facilitating a remarkable recovery of wildlife. Namibia now boasts the largest free-roaming population of black rhinos and cheetahs in the world and is the only country with an expanding population of free-roaming lions. Namibia’s elephant population more than doubled between 1995 and 2008 from 7,500 to over 16,000 individuals. This remarkable turnaround has led some to call Namibia’s conservation efforts “The greatest African wildlife recovery story over told

The Namibia Tourist Board has oodles of how-to and where-to information. It does not yet have a US office, but if the website does not provide the information you need, you can try the home office or one of the international offices (click here for contact info). Ginger Mauney, a native of Virginia (though you’d never know it to hear her speak) is the North American Trade Liaison for the Namibia Tourism Board. I’ll bet if you have any further questions, you can E-mail her at gingerm@mweb.com.na and she’ll be able to answer or put you in touch with someone who can.