21 February 2019

Namibia: Debmarine-Namdeb Foundation Helps Save the Rhino

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The work of Save the Rhino Trust has been made easier with the assistance from the Debmarine-Namdeb Foundation to buy three field vehicles.

SRT chief executive Simson Uri-Khob told The Namibian in an exclusive interview at their Base Camp at Palmwag in Kunene region recently that the vehicle assistance from the foundation in 2017 had made a big impact in their work.

The three Land Cruisers, of which one is a double cab - were bought for N$1,5 million, to help SRT to protect the black rhino in north-western Namibia.

"The donation made things easier for us," said Uri-khob who added that before the assistance they had 11 vehicles, of which two were old and were in and out of the garage for repairs.

Uri-khob said because of the three new vehicles, they now cover bigger distances during their field work. In the past, he said, they were doing the field patrols with vehicles - meaning that when their teams of four trackers went into the field, the vehicles did not come back to the station as they had to be used for patrols and the teams stayed in the field for 21 days

"We now cover bigger areas than in the past because we now only drop our teams at their fly-in camps and the vehicles come back to the station to be used in other areas that also need transport like delivering water supplies.

SRT has 13 fly-in camps in the Palmwag area with each camp being manned by a team of four comprising two SRT trackers and two police officers. Each team spends 21 days in the field.

Uri-khob said a team sometimes walks distances of 40-50 km to track the rhinos and ensure their safety and they have been successful in doing so, although there have been a few attempts to poach.

He attributed this to the good communication and collaboration between SRT, the rural communities and the Rhino Pride Project, which is creating public awareness on the importances of the rhino and the disadvantage poaching brings to communities.

Apart from having its own trackers, SRT has trained members of communal conservancies to be rhino rangers.

Uri-khob said although SRT has received funding and support from a number of donors and partners, funding remains a challenge.

"We operate in a very huge area of 25 000 sqaure km. Funding will never be enough," said Uri-khob.

Imme Hucke-McFarlane from the Debmarine-Namdeb Foundation said conservation is a specific focus area of the foundation and that the SRT is vital in the protection of the rhino as well as other species in the area.

There are less than 5 000 black rhinos left in Africa, the majority of which are concentrated in four countries - South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Namibia - and the black rhino's last stand may be north-western Namibia.

It is against this background that SRT signed an agreement with the ministry of environment, where SRT was given authority to protect, monitor, do research on the black rhino and provide capacity building for rural communities in the Kunene and Erongo regions. SRT trackers come from local communities and have a deep knowledge of rhinos and their surroundings.

Since its peak in 2013, poaching in SRT areas of operation has dropped by 80%. From 2012 to 2018, the number of trained and equipped rhino rangers has grown from 0 to 59 across 13 conservancies.

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