Desert Black Rhino project
Hartmann’s mountain zebra project
Namibia, located on Africa’s southwestern coast, is truly a land of superlatives. It has the world’s oldest desert, one of the oldest known living plants (Welwitschia plants live over 1,000 years), the second lowest human population density and the largest free-ranging populations of black rhino and cheetah. Other iconic mammals found in Namibia’s extremely dry, rugged wilderness areas include elephants, lions, leopards, giraffe, hyena, and many kinds of antelope. Nearly 15% of Namibia’s land falls under National Park status, with an additional 40% under conservancy status.
The Minnesota Zoo Conservation Department has a long history in Namibia. Dr. Ron Tilson, who was the Minnesota Zoo’s Conservation Director for 27 years before retiring in 2011, lived in the Namib Desert at the world-renowned Desert Ecological Research Unit (DERU) from 1976 to 1979 and was one of the first Post-Doctorate students studying the ecology and behavior of desert-adapted wildlife in the Kuiseb River Canyon. Two decades later (1999) he was followed by the Zoo’s conservation biologist, Jeff Muntifering, who first worked with the Cheetah Conservation Fund and for the past ten years in the Kunene Region with Save the Rhino Trust.
Our work in Namibia is aligned with the Zoo’s Strategic Plan to secure wild lands and wildlife beyond the Zoo’s fences and broaden our contribution to global conservation efforts. We are striving to achieve that mission in Namibia by joining forces with local communities, local and international conservation organizations, and the Namibian government to support conservation efforts for black rhino and Hartmann’s mountain zebra. These iconic animals serve as umbrella species for wilderness conservation, in that protecting them also safeguards numerous other species.
Project location background
Black rhinos are one of five rhino species: three live in Asia (Indian, Javan, and Sumatran) and two in Africa (White and Black). Between 1950 and 1990, they experienced a catastrophic 96% decline, largely fueled by the black market demand for their horns. Currently listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), only about 4,000 wild black rhino remain, living in small fragmented populations scattered across southern and eastern Africa.One-third of these rhinos call Namibia home, with the largest unfenced black rhino population in Africa persisting on formally unprotected lands in the remote north-west Kunene Region.
The Minnesota Zoo, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy’s Africa Program, joined forces with a local conservation organization, Save the Rhino Trust (SRT), in 2009 to support their black rhino conservation efforts. Having operated in the Kunene Region for over 30 years, SRT’s work represents one of Africa’s only black rhino conservation success stories, in that the population has more than quadrupled since the early 1980’s. Minnesota Zoo staff, Jeff Muntifering, has been working with SRT since 2002.
The Minnesota Zoo’s Desert Black Rhino Project uses science-based techniques that support decision-making by local communities who are actively pursuing black rhino reintroduction on their lands - an unrivalled opportunity for rhino range expansion when most rhinos across Africa are once again on the decline. After helping communities identify the most promising wilderness areas to restore black rhinos, through community-based mapping activities, specialist courses and on-the-job training for rhino tracking and monitoring activities are being supported through the new Rhino Ranger Incentive Program.
Once rhino have been re-established, responsible rhino tourism courses will be offered with curricula based on nearly a decade of applied research and experience at Desert Rhino Camp, a joint venture conservation tourism enterprise between SRT and Wilderness Safaris. Overall, the project strives to continue expanding the Kunene desert black rhinos’ range while ensuring that key wilderness areas are given priority conservation status and sustained through responsible tourism that benefits local communities. For more information, visit Save the Rhino Trust and the Nature Conservancy’s Africa Program or support the Rhino Ranger Incentive Program by donating below.
Make a donation in support of the Desert Black Rhino Project.
Hartmann’s mountain zebras (Equus zebra hartmannae) are a lesser known zebra subspecies primarily inhabiting dry and mountainous regions of Namibia. Their conservation status is considered “vulnerable” due to their small population size (approximately 9,000 mature individuals) and possible overharvesting.
It is currently difficult to devise a conservation plan for Hartmann’s mountain zebras because so little is known about them. Fragmented populations are scattered throughout the country - some in national parks, some in conservancies managed by local communities, and some on private lands. They are thought to move seasonally, but little is known about where they go, how they get there, and what challenges they may face along the way.
Our project seeks to understand mountain zebra movements across Namibia’s Kunene Region using a combination of observational and GPS data from collared zebras. We also intend to model and map mountain zebra habitat suitability and identify important conservation management areas for mountain zebras across the region. Our ultimate goal is to work with local communities, local conservation organizations, and the Namibian government to create a regional conservation action plan for Kunene mountain zebras and contribute towards a national conservation action plan.
Take a tour of one of our GPS-collared zebra’s treks through Namibia’s northwestern mountains (free downloadable plug-in required): http://www.mnzoo.org/conservation/ZebraGoogle.asp
Read the article from our ZooTracks publication, "Tracking mountain zebras in Namibia’s remote wilderness areas."