Honouring Rhino Rangers

Rhino Ranger Awards ceremony participants
Rhino Ranger Awards ceremony participants

As we wrap up our annual work and celebrate our conservation successes despite the challenges, first and foremost, we would like to thank all the frontline workers on the ground who work – and walk – in the field to monitor and protect our natural resources, including the conservancy game guards, conservancy lion or rhino rangers, fish guards or community resource monitor.

On 18 November 2018, Rhino Rangers were honoured for their critical contribution to the protection of the world’s largest free-ranging black rhino population in Twyfelfontein at the Uibasen conservancy office. 41 Rhino Rangers in the Kunene and Erongo regions of north-western Namibia were honoured at the 2nd Annual Kunene Rhino Awards for their tireless work to protect the country’s free-ranging black rhino.

The Rhino Rangers are community members within communal conservancies that track and monitor black rhinos through the harsh desert landscape daily and have continued to do so throughout the pandemic year, ensuring the survival of this population.

Over 60 Rhino Rangers, supported by Save the Rhino Trust (SRT), Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC) and the Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF), work tirelessly to protect the largest free-roaming population of black rhinos (Diceros bicornis bicornis) left in the world. Communal conservancies in the Kunene and Erongo regions are recognised as rhino custodians allowing access to benefits for communities and expanding rangeland for rhinos.  ‘Boots on the ground’ means rangers in the field, tracking and monitoring daily and the Kunene Rhino Awards celebrates this commitment.

Rhino Rangers representing 13 rangeland conservancies attended the event which took place at Uibasen/Twyfelfontein conservancy. The annual event is the second of its kind and is set to become a permanent feature on the Kunene conservation calendar. An official word of welcome was given by Simson !Uri-≠Khob, the CEO of Save the Rhino Trust, the organisation that spearheads rhino conservation in the region. Mr !Uri-≠Khob thanked the rangers for the ongoing efforts to protect this unique population of rhino and said ‘I would like to encourage you all to keep up the dedication and commitment, which is being acknowledged in this awards ceremony today. You have all worked very hard this year and this has led to no rhino poaching over the past 12 months – a great achievement that is due to all of your hard work.’

The Charge de Affaires to Namibia from the United States of America, Jessica Long, added ‘The U.S. has supported species conservation and in particular rhino conservation in Namibia for many years and it is a great honour to be present here today, as we recognise the work of the community Rhino Rangers in protecting this species.’  Save the Rhino Trust has enjoyed long-term support from the United States Government in various forms.

The categories for prizes included the best rhino ID photograph taken during patrol (voted for by all community rangers), the most foot kilometres walked by a ranger, most active field days and the most rhino sightings during the year 2020. In addition, Rhino Rangers who have been with the programme for longer than 5 years received Hero Jackets. 

The winners were: Best rhino ID photo taken during patrol: Jackson Amakutuwa and Jessica Kharuxas; Most foot kilometres walked during the year: Michael Adams (2167 km); Most active field ranger days: Chips Tjambiru (212 days); and Most rhino sightings during the year: Marthinus Sanib (432 sightings)

Save the Rhino Trust would like to thank USAID, Rangers and CYMOT for providing funding and prizes to support the 2020 Kunene Rhino Awards.

The Black rhino is a “critically endangered” species according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ and Namibia’s north-western Kunene Region contains the largest free-ranging population anywhere on the planet.

At a national level, Namibia hosts close to one-third of the global population. The rhinos in the Kunene region survive in open access communal land and communal conservancies are recognised as rhino custodians allowing access to benefits for communities and expanding rangeland for rhinos.

This conservation success is underpinned by enabling legislation around wildlife and a unique collaborative approach.  Communal conservancies, Traditional Authorities, government ministries, tourism operators and non-government organisations all work together to reduce poaching. 

Using the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) technology, Save the Rhino Trust can accurately measure individual ranger performance during patrols. Over 12 months, this effort is added and compared to other rangers.  The best performing rangers are awarded during the ceremony, but the emphasis is on teamwork, the overall achievement of the group of rangers and all role players in rhino conservation.

Save the Rhino Trust’s presentation on monitoring efforts for the year showed that even during the COVID-19 pandemic, rangers continued to work hard.  The absence of rhino trekking tourism activities in 2020 means that the teams worked extra hard to protect rhinos that are usually seen regularly by tourism groups.

Andrew Malherbe
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