13. Historicising black rhino in Namibia: colonial-era hunting, conservation custodianship, and plural values

Sian Sullivan, Simson !Uriǂkhob, Birgit Kötting, Jeff Muntifering and Rob Brett

(December 2021)

Abstract.

The black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) is a threatened species of which the south-western subspecies (D. bicornis bicornis, synonym D. bicornis occidentalis) persists on communal land and elsewhere in Namibia. It does so despite its clearance from most of the animal’s former range due to the expansion of colonial-era hunting with firearms, and the concentration of marginalised Namibians alongside this high-value species in the challenging landscapes of north-west Namibia in particular. We trace what is known about the patterns and impacts of colonial-era hunting of rhino in the territory that is now the modern state of Namibia, introducing an online map of documented historical encounters with rhino in Namibia and the pressures on them from late 1700s. This map of historical encounters is currently complementing baseline information on the past distribution of black rhino in Namibia held by the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT) in support of its collaborative Black Rhino Custodianship Programme (BRCP). We outline contemporary pressures on black rhino and conservation responses to these circumstances, tracing the emergence of a novel approach to rhino conservation in Namibia that recruits people living under different kinds of land tenure as ‘custodians’ of these animals, so as to support the reintroduction of both black and white rhino throughout their former range. We focus in on proactive rhino conservation work in communal-area conservancies of west Namibia which combines the translocation of black rhino to areas of its former range with an array of endeavours to pluralise the animal’s contemporary value, including rhino tourism, the recruit of local ‘rhino rangers’, and ‘rhino pride’ initiatives. In this context, and differently to custodians on freehold land, a vulnerable, large-bodied, space-requiring and sometimes dangerous mammal with very high international conservation value, simultaneously lives alongside peoples impoverished historically and with their own ambitions towards self-determination. This custodianship model of rhino conservation can be understood in part as a creative species conservation response to the very challenging structural circumstances effected by both past impacts on rhino and present inequality in land distribution and tenure, both of which add heat to questions of access to land and resources, including wildlife.

 

Key words: Black rhino; Diceros bicornis bicornis; Namibia; colonialism; hunting; rhino conservation; conservation custodianship; values