Desert Adapted Black Rhino of Namibia

As part of our Desert Wildlife of Namibia Safaris we spend 3 nights at the Desert Rhino Camp in the remote and expansive Palmwag Concession focussing on finding and photographing the desert adapted Black rhino.

You can get a better idea of what to expect from an experience point of view in this post but essentially mornings are spent tracking down and Desert Adapted Black Rhino with trackers from the Save The Rhino Trust team. Each day a different region or zone is used in order to ensure that the Rhino, which are sensitive to disturbance by Tourism related activities, are not negatively impacted.

Some Facts about the Desert Adapted Black Rhino

The black rhino population of north west Namibia's Kunene region is unique in that it is one of the world's most important populations of black rhino to have survived outside of a formally protected National Reserve or Park.

Historically, desert adapted black rhino (Diceros bicornis bicornis) were found across Namibia and into western South Africa but are now limited to northwest Namibia where 90% of this subspecies occur.

Their distribution in the region is now stretched across 23 000 square kilometres (2 300 000 ha or 5.7 Million acres) of arid communal rangelands in the Kunene region which is anchored by the Palmwag Concession area where the Desert Rhino Camp is located.

This particular population survives in the most extreme, resource limited habitat for any rhino population with typically less than 100mm of rainfall on a sparsely vegetated landscape. Exclusively browsers, its hard to imagine how an animal of this size can even exist in this martian like landscape.

Exclusive browsers, the desert adapted black rhino use their prehensile lip to clip off vegetation from bushes, shrubs and trees, showing a preference for Euphorbia damarana Euphorbia virosa and Terminalia prunoides in this region.

A Euphorbia damarana bush cuts a lonely figure against a rocky background.

Much like the other sub-species, Black Rhino bulls are highly territorial and will actively defend cows within their territory. The cows tend to stay closer together in home ranges and tolerate an overlap in the home ranges between individuals (see our encounter with 5 different individuals within close proximity to one another here).

As a result of the harsh environment and limited resources, home ranges can be up to 10 times the size of that of other rhino populations making space and suitable habitat one of the key conservation variables for the species.

Births occur throughout the year but a trends has been found where conceptions peak in the early rain season and births occurring in the early dry season. Birth intervals often exceed three years compared to two and two and a half in other rhino populations.

Rhino Viewing Protocols at Desert Rhino Camp

The desert adapted black rhino are known to be shy and easily agitated, moving away from people and therefore out of protected areas. Females with calves are especially prone to move when disturbed. The primary aim for the black rhino tracking safaris at Desert Rhino Camp is to deliver a world-class rhino conservation experience that allows guests to safely view these critically endangered creatures in their natural environment whilst allowing the Save The Rhino Trust trackers to gather information critical for monitoring and research purposes.

Vehicle based activities are limited to mornings and early afternoons with sundowner drives restricted to routes close to camp. The overall wilderness area will be rotated between four separate rhino patrol areas (or zones) with a maximum of two zones being used in a single day.

The amount of time spent with the animals is at the discretion of the Save The Rhino Trust Trackers but, as a guideline, time spent decreases with the proximity at which the animals are viewed so as to limit any impact of these activities on the animals.

This does not mean that close encounters don't happen fro time to time as we experienced during our stay. Wind direction can swirl and change in an instant bringing with it a change in behaviour in the animal.

Regardless, the Save The Rhino Trust Trackers are completely in control of the situation at all times and ensure that guests enjoy a safe and world class experience by encountering these animals on foot.

A Three Way Partnership

Desert Rhino Camp is an inspiring story of modern conservation success bringing wilderness safaris, Save The Rhino Trust and the Tora, Sesfontein and Anabeb conservancies together for the conservation of the desert adapted Black Rhino.

  • Save The Rhino Trust is a highly respected NGO that has been responsible for the preservation of the desert adapted Black Rhino in Namibia
  • Wilderness Safaris run and manage the Desert Rhino Camp
  • The Torra, Sesfontein and Anabeb community conservancies are legally registered areas with clearly defined borders and a constituted management body run by the community for the development of residents and the sustainable use of wildlife and tourism.

Your stay at Desert Rhino Camp is about so much more than the desert adapted Black Rhino as you learns how local communities, government and private business have come together with the common goal of conservation of this critically endangered species.

Throw in a spectacular landscape, vibrant sunsets and warm hospitality and believe me, you want want to leave.

Andrew Beck

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