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  • Writer's pictureSian Sullivan

Perceptions and histories of black rhino in west Namibia

Updated: Jan 26, 2021

Black rhino - Diceros bicornis bicornis - in north-west Namibia. Photo: Sian Sullivan, 25 November 2015.

Future Pasts publishes a new Working Paper! Attitudes and perceptions of local communities towards the reintroduction of black rhino (Diceros bicornis bicornis) into their historical range in northwest Kunene Region, Namibia, is a Masters Dissertation from 2004 by Simson !Uriǂkhob, CEO since 2014 of the Namibian NGO Save the Rhino Trust. It was submitted ‘in partial fulfilment of the requirement for the degree of Master of Science in Conservation Biology’ at the University of Kent's Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) in the United Kingdom. Simson's 2004 research with those living in landscapes forming the existing and potential range for black rhino is an important contribution to understanding and celebrating contemporary circumstances, which is why we are enhancing its public accessibility with this publication.

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Simson !Uriǂkhob's dissertation examines the attitudes and perceptions of rural communities living in three conservancies in Namibia's Kunene Region towards wildlife in general, and to the reintroduction of black rhino (Diceros bicornis bicornis) into these conservancies. The conservancies, called ǂKhoadi-||Hôas, Omatandeka and ||Huab, fall within the historical range of this species. A questionnaire survey was undertaken in May and June 2004 with residents of the conservancies, collecting demographic data, socio-economic data and knowledge of wildlife amongst households residing close to the current rhino range, as well as with those living in the middle of the surveyed conservancies and in neighbouring conservancies.

A high proportion of respondents were found to be very positive towards conserving wildlife as well as to the reintroduction of rhino. Positive attitudes tended to be associated with education and with households that already benefit from the conservancy, as well as amongst those who live next to conservancies with good benefit-sharing schemes. These findings suggest that benefits influence attitudes.

It was found additionally that respondents whose family members work in tourism-related fields were very positive towards conserving wildlife. Education level, age, gender, occupation and which conservancy respondents were from were the most important factors influencing attitudes of respondents towards conserving wildlife.

At the same time, a proportion of respondents were not in favour of conserving wildlife, reportedly since they do not receive any benefits from wildlife, incurring only losses to livestock and crops from wildlife, and especially from elephants and predators.

Potential release sites for black rhino reintroduced to conservancy areas were identified by respondents and assessed separately for their habitat suitability, access to surface water and the impact of human settlements in these areas. The Klip River area to the west of the ǂKhoadi-||Hôas Conservancy was found to be the most favourable site for reintroducing rhino. Zonation of this area by the conservancy for only wildlife use further supports this site being considered for the reintroduction of rhino into their historical range in the following year.

Finally, it was realised that examination of the relationship between local communities and conservation issues requires deeper understanding of the history of the region as well as factors shaping regional political concerns.

Simson !Uriǂkhob speaks to an interviewee during his MSc field research in 2004.

Simson !Uriǂkhob's dissertation is preceded by a Foreword by Sian Sullivan (Future Pasts) and Jeff Muntifering (Science Adviser to Save the Rhino Trust), providing a Namibian history of the critically endangered and ‘unique’ ‘South-western black rhino’ to further situate Simson !Uriǂkhob’s MSc research and highlight its importance.

Our Foreword responds to !Uriǂkhob’s assertion in his dissertation that,

examination of the relationship between local communities and conservation issues requires deeper understanding of the history of the region as well as factors shaping regional political concerns.

In brief, it is extraordinary that black rhino currently thrive in north-west Namibia, given:

  1. the clearance of black rhino from most of its former range, as the colonial frontier – enabled by firearm technology – expanded erratically from especially the 1830s;

  2. the concentration of both economically marginalised autochthonous Namibians and high-value black rhino in the relatively inaccessible and inhospitable landscapes of west Namibia.

Our historicising of black rhino in west Namibia outlines what is known about the past presence of Diceros bicornis bicornis in the western reaches of the territory that became Namibia. It clarifies the different and changing pressures that have caused the present highly restricted distribution of the species, of which the west Kunene population forms a critical part.

In particular, we introduce a new online map that spatialises historical documentation of encounters with rhino. Each placemark on the map below includes documented historical information on encounters with rhino from the late 1700s onwards, as written by predominantly European men who were hunters, traders, settlers, missionaries and colonial administrators.

We conclude our Foreword by returning to the significance of Simson !Uriǂkhob’s research for current monitoring, tourism and local values connected with black rhino in west Namibia. The ongoing challenge is to align multiple values for this charismatic but threatened species, such that black rhino remain in their starkly beautiful desert home into the future, and local peoples continue to benefit from their value.


For more information on conservancies in remaining communally-managed areas in Namibia see the information sheet published by Conservation Namibia here.

The Future Pasts Working Paper Series aims to facilitate distribution of research findings and work in progress by researchers associated with the Future Pasts project. We also welcome relevant contributions by post-graduate students and other associates of Future Pasts. The series aims to open up discussion among the global community of scholars, policymakers and practitioners on pressing issues concerning conservation, sustainability, heritage, knowledge and value that are exemplified in west Namibian social and environmental contexts. All Future Pasts working papers are available to download free of charge in PDF format via the Future Pasts website ( All papers are registered with the British Library.

Save the Rhino Trust (SRT) is a partner organisation of the Future Pasts project. Responsible for monitoring black rhino in an area of 25,000 km2, SRT's trackers come from local communities and possess a deep knowledge of rhinos and their surroundings. The work of SRT can be supported through their website at

An SRT administrator, Welhemina Suro Ganuses, was seconded to the Future Pasts project for many months of field research between 2014 to the present. She is a co-author with Sian Sullivan on several publications arising from the project, including the chapter "Understanding Damara / ǂNūkhoe and ǁUbu indigeneity and marginalisation in Namibia" for a major national review of indigenous and marginalised communities published in 2020 by Namibia's Legal Assistance Centre. The Future Pasts project also works closely with participants in the local 'Rhino Ranger' scheme in which conservancies in the rhino range of north-west Namibia collaborate with SRT, particularly Filemon |Nuab of Sesfontein Conservancy.

Key words. Black rhino (Diceros bicornis bicornis); Kunene Region, Namibia; ǂKhoadi-||Hôas Conservancy; Omatandeka Conservancy; ||Huab Conservancy; species reintroduction; CBNRM; biodiversity conservation; Save the Rhino Trust; colonialism

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