|pool area at grootberg lodge|
Thursday, July 2, 2015
"If a rhino charge at us, we stay together behind a tree," our guide/tracker was going over the safety briefing with us. "If we encounter lions, don't turn your back on them, observe their behavior then slowly back away," he continued. "The worst thing we could do is to run away from an animal - we'll be finished," he warned us. There are approximately 5000 black rhinos left in the world and Namibia has the highest numbers of them with (approx.) 1700. Only about 700 of them are free-ranging (i.e. not confined in National Parks and sanctuaries) that are found in the Northern Namibia desert. It was these free-ranging rhinos that we were here to track. In January 2014 Texan hunter Corey Knowlton won a $350,000 bid for a permit to shoot a black rhino. In recent years, the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism had allowed three permits a year, and Knowlton's permit marked the first time a black rhino hunting permit had been auctioned outside the country. Knowlton, the Dallas Safari Club who sponsored the auction and some conservationists and scientists insist that you can save the black rhinos by killing one. In theory, only surplus males are hunted, with each case considered on its merits. They would target an aging bull who was beyond his reproductive years and who posed a threat to younger rhinos. It would also provide much needed funds for rhino conservation projects. Read this.
But other animal rights organizations have criticized this conservation strategy and argue that the better focus would be eco-tourism, raising money from people willing to pay to see endangered animals up close in the wild. Killing endangered wildlife to save it is just wrong. It does not make sense morally, economically or from a conservation-incentive point of view. Economically, the actual benefit to the local people from trophy hunting have been found to be exaggerated or practically non-existent in some cases. For conservation work to be sustainable, engaging the communities is vital. On 29 April (exactly a month before my trip to Namibia), Knowlton shot his rhino. Grootberg Lodge in the Khoadi /Hoas Conservancy was the base for my rhino tracking. The building cost of the lodge was funded by European Union. It is the only lodge in Namibia that is wholly owned and operated by the community. The establishment of the lodge brought employment and a more sustainable income to community members as well as a revenue stream to aid and promote social initiatives and resources. It is a fine example of sustainable conservation. The lodge itself is nothing short of breathtaking - standing at the top of a plateau near the edge overlooking a network of canyons.