Tracking the success of Namibia’s desert rhinos

Black rhino in Kunene

A rare sighting: desert dwelling black rhino

When we last came to track Namibia’s arid-adapted black rhino in their desert stronghold it was May 2009. The rains that year had been exceptionally good and searching out the rhinos in this remote region was challenging even for the experienced and expert local trackers employed by Save the Rhino Trust (SRT). SRT is the long-established and highly-regarded Namibian charity that has successfully built up numbers of these rare and endangered animals from just 25 or so animals following poaching in the ’70s and ’80s.

We did eventually track down rhinos that day thanks to the skill and tireless efforts of the trackers who are passionate about protecting this special group of black rhinos. It was extremely exciting to finally witness for ourselves free roaming, desert dwelling black rhinos – a cow and her calf shading contentedly by a euphorbia bush in the late afternoon…

Rhino tracker records sighting

Rhino tracker records sighting

Exactly four years later and we’re back in this forbidding but beautiful terrain charting the work of the SRT for this project. The conditions could not be more different. It’s very dry here this time. After several good years of rains, and a cold winter in 2012, the latest rainy season was predicted to be another good one. It didn’t happen. That’s not good news for the wildlife, but it is certainly easier to track rhinos when it’s dry as the trackers can start their search at the springs the rhinos use to drink in the night-time and follow up fresh tracks from there.

Two days ago we went out on patrol with SRT veteran Bernd Brel. ‘The dry conditions are not good at all for the grazing animals, but the browsers, like the rhinos, that feed on bushes and trees, will be alright,’ he told us.

We picked up fresh tracks, called ‘spoor’, made the night before along a remote, rocky water-course; bumping along in his vehicle with two SRT trackers and his hyperactive two year old border collie, pretty soon after starting out. Bernd was just telling us how there are 125 different bushes and shrubs in the area and that the rhinos utilise as many as 75 of them when we almost ran into a male black rhino resting right by the track in the shade of a small tree, less than 50 metres away. It took us all day and a lot of hard work when we here four years ago. Today we get lucky and don’t even have to do any serious tracking to find our rhino. It’s the first outing and we’re both hoping our chance encounter is a good omen for what’s to come in the rest of our visit here…

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