The Rhino Custodianship Programme

The Rhino Custodianship Programme

Project background

Species of focus: 



13 communal conservancies

Summary description: 

In 2005 the innovative Rhino Custodianship Programme established by Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism spearheaded a large-scale initiative to achieve biological management and rural development goals by restoring the black rhinoceros to its historical rangelands, while meeting an emerging demand from local communities to engage in rhinoceros tourism. This programme provided an opportunity to strengthen existing local values and institutions that supported rhinoceros conservation as demonstrated by the government’s willingness to share key values identified by communities including:

  • Power - through the establishment of co-management institutions that have granted custodial rights to landholders or communal conservancies that wish to utilize the rhinoceros for tourism on their land.
  • Wealth - through rights for local people to benefit from non-consumptive use of rhinoceroses, without any requirement to share profits with central government.
  • Respect - through assigning joint responsibility for local conservation activities.

Other values sought by local people, notably skills, knowledge and well-being, have been fulfilled through partnerships with local and international NGOs, and with tourism operators that have contributed towards rhinoceros conservation, especially through co-financing rhinoceros monitoring.

Since 2012, 26 rangers have been appointed by and accountable to 13 communal conservancies. These Conservancy Rhino Rangers have been provided with training, state-of-the art monitoring equipment and field gear, and performance-based bonus payments to improve the quantity and quality of conservancy-led rhinoceros patrols. The number of trained, equipped rhinoceros monitoring personnel in Namibia’s north-west has tripled since 2012 and the number of conservancies actively engaged in monitoring has increased twelvefold - in 2014 there were 1013 ranger patrol days and 727 rhinoceros sightings by rangers in the 13 participating conservancies.

Land management type: 

Communally managed land

Product(s) in trade: 

Types of poachers: 

Project implementation

Is the project implemented by an external party? 


Was the project established specifically to engage communities in combatting IWT? 


Year the IWT project or component started 


Project status is currently: 

Community engagement

Approach taken to community engagement and its rationale: 

Community members are employed as game guards
Community members benefit from tourism as a conservation incentive


Not specified.


Not specified.

The community engagement project is: 

Stand alone initiative

What “rules of engagement” for working with communities does the case study address? 

Advance and recognize and respect the rights of local people to manage and benefit from wildlife
Build the capacity of local people to manage and benefit from wildlife
Include local people in wildlife monitoring and enforcement networks
Recognise and strengthen the legitimacy of local communities as critical partners

What has been the impact on poaching/IWT? 

Don’t know/Case study/project has not assessed impact on poaching

What has been the impact on wildlife populations? 

Not known/not documented

Further detail about the impact on poaching: 

In December 2012 a rhinoceros poacher was identified, apprehended, arrested and had a firearm and horns confiscated within 24 hours of the discovery and immediate reporting of the carcass by a local farmer near the north-east boundary of the Palmwag Tourism Concession Area. Tourism initiatives currently finance ongoing monitoring of 25 % of Namibia’s north-west free ranging rhinoceroses. Of the 18 confirmed cases of rhinoceros poaching that have occurred in north-west Namibia during 2012-2014, none were in an area where rhinoceros tourism is practised, or in a conservancy wildlife tourism area with permanent activity and direct benefit sharing agreements between the private sector operator and the host conservancy.
Lessons learned about engaging communities

What worked about the community engagement approach and why? 

Not specified.

What did not work and why? 

Not specified.

Further comments or additional information about community engagement 

As the demand for rhinoceros tourism opportunities increases it will become essential to design and implement benefit-sharing mechanisms that ensure security, quality monitoring, and community support for rhinoceroses. One promising policy intervention that has emerged has been the development of a conservancy-led rhinoceros ranger initiative.

Case study information is up to date as of: 

Bibliographic information

Main source(s) of information: 

Published documentation


Harnessing values to save the rhinoceros: insights from Namibia


Muntifering JR et al

Year of publication: 


Journal/Book/Series details: 



Cambridge University Press

Place published: 

Cambridge, UK
Case study entry information

This case study entry compiled by: 

Francesca Booker

Date of case study entry: 

Tuesday, 13 September, 2016