Namibia records reduction in rhino poaching despite strains caused by Covid-19

Olivia Miller
Picture by Unsplash

Namibia has successfully reduced poaching of black and white rhinos, with 31 killed in 2020 compared with 52 in 2019. The number of elephants poached was 11, down from 13 in 2019. The country’s Minister of Environment, Forestry and Tourism, Pohamba Shifeta announced the figures on 4 February, attributing the reduction to successful anti-poaching measures. Professor Keith Somerville of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) has commented on how the success of Namibia’s community conservancies is limiting poaching, yet a loss of income due to Covid-19 could affect the future. He said:

‘Namibia’s success, with rhino and elephant numbers increasing, contrasts with South Africa, where despite a reduction in poaching of rhino, the rhino population has dropped by two thirds in the last nine years.

‘One of the key factors in reducing poaching in Namibia, has been the expansion since independence of community involvement in land/wildlife management through community conservancies. These are bodies which give communities on land shared with wildlife, outside fully protected areas considerable power over land use – whether pastoralism, tourism, game cropping or trophy hunting.  Since 1996, when legislation allowed the formation of conservancies, 87 have been established across Namibia.

‘Run by local communities, conservancies provide protected areas for wildlife outside national parks. They generate more than $10 million a year in cash income and other benefits for conservancy members. The communities who use it to employ locally recruited game guards, provide education and health improvements and help for farmers.

‘Pastoralists living in the conservancies can still keep cattle. As I found during a visit to Damaraland, pre-Covid, income such as the fees paid by tourists to go on safari to see the rhinos and elephants, can pay for predator proof enclosures for livestock, and solar water pumps. These not only save farmers having to buy fuel, but they can operate to fill water troughs as soon as the level in them drops. This is good for the cattle, and for elephants who drink from the troughs, but may damage pumps if the troughs run dry.

‘Namibia’s positive record, which benefits both, is under threat from the results of Covid-19 lockdowns and travel restrictions. In 2019, there were 1.7 million foreign visitors, to a country of 2.5 million people. Tourism businesses, including lodges and hunting concessions in conservancies, paid $3.9 million in wages to conservancy employees and $3.6 million in annual conservation fees in 2018. In 2020 and 2021, the income is likely to be a fraction of that amount. The income to support anti-poaching will also be lost. Without major funding help internationally, Namibia’s successes could be lost, through no fault of Namibians or their government.’

The world population of black rhino is between 5,366 to 5,627, and Namibia has between a third and  half of the world population. Namibia’s black rhino population is increasing and ministry officials have said that there are over 2,000 black rhino in the country – up from 1,750 in 2011. The black rhino in Namibia are the south-western sub-species and Save the Rhino have estimated that between 2012 and 2017, the last full survey of numbers, the population grew by over 11%. In 2018, the white rhino population was put at 1,037, up from 499 in 2011. Namibia’s elephant population has risen from 6-8,000 in 1995 to nearly 23,000 in the last census in 2016.

Professor Keith Somerville is a member of the Durrell Institute of Conservation, teaches at the centre for Journalism, is a Fellow of the Zoological Society of London and a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies. He has written books on the ivory trade in Africa, human lion conflict and his latest book– Humans and Hyenas: Monsters or Misrepresented, is out in March 2021.

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