In response to the escalating threat from poachers, communities in Namibia’s north western region are themselves the catalyst in an initiative to strengthen their commitment and capacity to protect the last truly wild population of Black Rhino. Already engaged under the Ministry of Environment and Tourism’s Communal Rhino Custodians scheme, community leaders asked for help (in 2011) to raise the rhino monitoring capacity of appointed community rangers. This community driven demand led to the creation of the Rhino Ranger Incentive Programme.
The first stage of the programme, which began in 2012, focused on improving overall monitoring effectiveness with state of the art equipment and on the job skills development through joint patrols with rhino specialists. Other incentives, such as new camping kit and performance-based cash bonuses, have dramatically improved the quality and quantity of community based rhino monitoring. Stage two is now underway and involves delivering training that integrates the Rhino Rangers’ work with rhino tracking tourism activities.
This structured and strategic community based rhino tourism model will increase security for the rhino by tightening tourism regulations as well as boosting the number of ‘boots on the ground’ in the rhino areas. It will also generate new local income that not only finances the monitoring work by the rangers, but also provides additional revenue that may benefit the broader community. The programme’s overall aim is to further reduce local tolerance to poaching by enhancing the relationship between rhinos and local people. Although, training also includes recording and reporting criminal behaviour or suspicious activity to the appropriate officials. The point of this is to better align enforcement based and incentive-based strategies, increasing the ability and willingness of locals to detect and report wildlife crime.
The approach is guided by the belief that securing a future for wild rhino depends on local people refusing to tolerate poaching, and rhino being more valuable alive than dead. It is envisaged that this innovative public-private partnership can help significantly expand the rhino range, leverage additional monitoring support from registered custodians, and create new revenue-generating opportunities from rhino tourism at the local level to help increase the value citizens attach to conserving them.