The Rhino Rangers Incentive Programme

The Rhino Rangers Incentive Programme

Two Rhino Rangers completing an identifcation excercise.
A Rhino Ranger in training.
A Conservancy Rhino Ranger stands proudly before a cow and calf that he has tracked during a patrol.Rhino Rangers completing rhino identifications.
Project background

Species of focus: 



Communal land in north west Kunene and Erongo Regions.

Summary description: 

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.

Land management type: 

Communally managed land

Product(s) in trade: 

Product value at site level: 

With the value of rhino horn on the black market at an estimated US $65,000 per kilogramme, the rhino is under siege. Across Africa, three rhinos are currently being killed by poachers every day. In Namibia poaching is also on the rise with middlemen purportedly offering at least US $2,500 for horn.

Types of poachers: 

Individuals from local community
Project implementation

Is the project implemented by an external party? 


Implementing organisation: 

Backed by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, the programme draws on the experience of a small group of locally-based rhino and tourism specialists, known as the Communal Rhino Custodian Support Group. They also serve to leverage the skills and expertise from a diverse group of Conservancy support organisations, primarily: Save the Rhino Trust, Namibia; Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation, Namibia; and Minnesota Zoo, USA.

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


Conservancies have contributed roughly US $25,000 per year to support Rhino Ranger team salaries with performance based bonuses (up to around US $150 per ranger per month) awarded by the Communal Rhino Custodian Support Group. Although low by international standards, this level of pay is competitive at the local scale.


Rhino Ranger team salaries are complimented by non-financial benefits such as such as uniforms, bi-annual team building events, training seminars, and certificates for achievement.

The community engagement project is: 

Stand alone initiative

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

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? 

Poaching levels have decreased

What has been the impact on wildlife populations? 

Not known/not documented

Further detail about the impact on poaching: 

Focused rhino patrols and associated patrol days as well as confirmed, individually-identified rhino sightings by community appointed rangers have shot up from 0 in 2011 to 727 ranger rhino sightings in 2014. While around 40 % of the region’s rhinos live within Communal Rhino Custodian land, only 22 % of the confirmed poaching cases through 2014 have occurred in these areas.
Lessons learned about engaging communities

What worked about the community engagement approach and why? 

Focused rhino patrols and associated patrol days as well as confirmed, individually-identified rhino sightings by community appointed rangers have shot up from 0 in 2011 to 727 ranger rhino sightings in 2014. While around 40 % of the region’s rhinos live within Communal Rhino Custodian land, only 22 % of the confirmed poaching cases through 2014 have occurred in these areas.

Community support is no doubt linked to the fact that it was the Communal Rhino Custodians themselves who desired and demanded more assistance. It is also helpful that the Rhino Rangers Incentive programme is building on existing relationships between rural communities and institutional initiatives.

Although hard to quantify, it seems that motivational ideas – such as uniforms, biannual team building events, training seminars, certificates for achievement in exams and bonus payments – have helped to increase the Rhino Rangers’ enthusiasm and pride in their role. The programme has also introduced Rhino Profile Cards; simple tools which help rangers to identify individual animals and find out about their life history. Not only have these cards improved identification, they have also built a stronger bond between the rangers and ‘their’ rhinos.

What did not work and why? 

Challenges experienced by the Rhino Ranger Incentive Programme include

  • The distance between the homes of some rangers and rhino areas creates a management challenge and increased costs for these individuals (transport and time).
  • Turnover in conservancy leadership has strained communication between conservancies and the programme support group in a couple of cases.
  • Anecdotal evidence suggests that witchcraft beliefs could be discouraging people from reporting suspicious behaviour.
  • Sustaining local interest and support while ranger patrol and tourism training is completed, and full benefits are realised and appreciated.
  • Longer term uncertainty about whether new revenues from rhino tourism will actually change attitudes in the wider community.
  • Available resources currently limit the project to working with conservancies that already have resident rhinos.

Further comments or additional information about community engagement 

Lessons learnt so far include

  • It takes time to carry out a needs assessment that takes account of how to increase local benefits from rhino. Taking time to fully understand the social context (key players, their perspectives and values) has helped identify the right mix of instruments and incentives that so far suggest that impact is being achieved. 
  • A transparent and inclusive decision process that works closely with appropriate local institutions is key for ensuring decisions are made that reflect the common interest
  • Anticipating potential and actual barriers to effective implementation increases success. Simply providing training and equipment is not enough.
  • Carefully drafted letters of agreement, developed and signed by both parties, helps clarify roles and responsibilities among the partners.

Case study information is up to date as of: 

Bibliographic information

Main source(s) of information: 

Published documentation


Conservation, crime and communities: case studies of efforts to engage local communities in tackling illegal wildlife trade


Roe D (Ed)

Year of publication: 


Journal/Book/Series details: 

A contribution to the symposium "Beyond enforcement", South Africa



Place published: 

London, UK
Case study entry information

This case study entry compiled by: 

Jeff Muntifering, Boas Hambo, Kenneth Uiseb, Pierre du Preez

Date of case study entry: 

Wednesday, 17 August, 2016