Desert Rhino Camp

Save the Rhino Trust

Based in the Kunene Region in Namibia's northwest, Save the Rhino Trust Namibia (SRT) is a non-governmental organisation working to protect the area's population of desert-adapted black rhino (Diceros bicornis bicornis) – the only truly free-ranging population in the world. It was founded in 1982 by a group of local conservationists concerned about the decreasing number of rhino due to poaching.

Save the Rhino Trust Namibia (SRT) works closely with Save the Rhino International in the UK, which supports a number of rhino conservation programmes in both Africa and Asia.

Living outside of a fenced protected area, the Kunene's rhinos are considered to be the largest truly free-ranging black rhino population left in the world. These rhino are protected and monitored by staff from SRT, in conjunction with Namibia's Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) and local communities. A number of dedicated SRT patrolling and monitoring teams cover the core rhino range area of over 25,000 km2 (6.7 million acres). These teams deter poaching and record valuable data on individual rhino, such as age, sex, rhino horn size and shape, ear notches and condition. This information is shared with MET who maintain the Kunene Black Rhino database – one of the longest-running and most comprehensive databases on black rhino in the world. This data helps to inform biological management decisions on Namibia's black rhino population.

Other SRT activities include assistance to MET during translocation operations of desert-adapted black rhino into their former habitat to establish meta-populations, and to ensure the survival and growth of the species. Collaboration is fundamental to SRT success and part of their effort focuses on building up knowledge, understanding and skills within partner organizations – including communities, tour operators, government and the international community. An incentive-based training programme in certain conservancies provides community game guards with theoretical and practical training as well as field equipment, uniforms and transport – as well as incentive bonuses. A further activity involves presentation of scene-of-the-crime training courses to rhino stakeholders in the area.

Guests at Desert Rhino Camp can enjoy a unique rhino-tracking experience with SRT trackers, leaving camp in a 4x4 vehicle to search for the rhinos, before getting closer on foot – although not too close!

Save the Rhino Trust Namibia – Mounted Patrol Team

The Mounted Patrol Team covers a total area of 7,520 km2, roughly one-third of SRT's operational area. Their surveillance area contains approximately 55% of the Kunene's black rhino population.

Patrols started in the early 1990s, when three camels were introduced to Save the Rhino Trust Namibia; since 1997, camel and donkey patrols have been used to monitor rhino in some of the most inaccessible areas of the rhino range. Sadly, in 2011 five of the eight camels died and, currently, a combination of camels and donkeys is used while replacement mounts are being sought.

The donkeys and camels are vital for getting trackers into the most rugged, remote and mountainous areas of the region, where vehicle access is impossible. This remoteness is precisely what makes them attractive to poachers and, historically, when poaching was rife, the Mounted Patrol Team's monitoring area was the hardest hit. It is therefore critical to the anti-poaching effort that a presence be maintained in these vulnerable areas.

Expert Africa's contribution

Of course, the Mounted Patrol Team needs a certain annual budget to ensure the well-being of both trackers and pack animals. From team equipment to remuneration of trackers and camel keepers, to camel pens, fodder during winter, veterinary care and vehicle logistical support – the list of funding needs is quite long. Since the conservation of African wildlife is our business as well, Expert Africa covers the travel costs and consultancy fees of the veterinarian for two routine visits per year to implement a health plan for the camels, donkeys, mules, and dogs at Mbakondja – the base camp of the Mounted Patrol Team.

This provides essential and much-needed veterinary care for Save the Rhino's animals. The remoteness of Save the Rhino's location makes getting a veterinarian to site a costly exercise. Their pack animals are crucial to patrolling in an area that was previously known to be a poaching hotspot and it is imperative that they are regularly checked and treated by a veterinarian so that they continue to be strong and healthy and provide a reliable form of four-legged transport into areas that cannot be accessed by vehicle.