Keith Somerville

Namibia has successfully reduced poaching of black and white rhinos, with 31 killed in 2020 compared with 52 in 2019.  The number of elephants poached was 11, down from 13 in 2019.

Black rhinos in Damaraland, Namibia. Keith Somerville

The figures were announced by the country’s Minister of Environment, Forestry and Tourism, Pohamba Shifeta on 4th February.  He said that successful anti-poaching measures had reduced poaching, largely as a result of communities in wildlife areas and the public as a whole jumping “jumped onto the bandwagon to reverse the trends of poaching”.

The world population of black rhino is between 5,366 to 5,627, and Namibia has between and a third and a half of the world population.  Namibiais black rhino population is increasing and ministry officials have said that there are over 2,000 black rhino in the country – up from 1,750 in 2011. The black rhino in Namibia are the south-western sub-species and Save the Rhino have estimated that between 2012 and 2017, the last full survey of numbers, the population grew by over 11%. In 2018, the white rhino population was put at 1,037, up from 499 in 2011.  Namibia’s elephant population has risen from 6-8,000 in1995 to nearly 23,000 in the last census in 2016.

Namibia’s success, with rhino and elephant numbers increasing, contrasts with South Africa, where despite a reduction in poaching of rhino, the rhino population has dropped by two thirds in the last nine years.

Shifeta detailed the steady decline in poaching: in 2020, 31; 52 in 2019, 81 in 2018; 55 in 2017;  66 in 2016; 97 in 2015,.  Elephant poaching has also come down steadily: with 11 elephants poached in 2020; 13 in 2019; 27 in 2018; 50 in 2017; 101 in 2016; 49 in 2015. 

desert-adapted elephants, Huab River valley, Damaraland. Keith Somerville

The success of Namibia’s community conservancies in limiting poaching

On of the key factors in reducing poaching, has been the expansion since independence of community involvement in land/wildlife management through community conservancies.  These are bodies which give communities on land shared with wildlife, outside fully protected areas considerable power over land use – whether pastoralism, tourism, game cropping or trophy hunting.  Since 1996, when legislation allowed the formation of conservancies, 87 have been established across Namibia.

Run by local communities, conservancies provide protected areas for wildlife outside national parks. They generate more than $10 million a year in cash income and other benefits for conservancy members. The communities who use it to employ locally-recruited game guards, provide education and health improvements and help for farmers.

Damaraland pastoralist enclosing cattle for the night. keith Somerville

Pastoralists living in the conservancies can still keep cattle.  As I found during a visit to Damaraland, pre-COVID, income such as the fees paid by tourists to go on safari to see the rhinos and elephants, can pay for predator proof enclosures for livestock, and solar water pumps. These not only save farmers having to buy fuel, but they can operate to fill water troughs as soon as the level in them drops. This is good for the cattle, but also for elephants who drink from the troughs, but will damage pumps if the troughs run dry. 


Namibia’s positive record, which benefits both, is under threat from the results of COVID lockdowns and travel restrictions.  In 2019, there were 1.7 million foreign visitors, to a country of 2.5 million people. Tourism businesses, including lodges and hunting concessions in conservancies, paid $3.9 million in wages to conservancy employees and $3.6 million in annual conservation fees in 2018. In 2020 and 2021, the income is likely to be a fraction of that amount. Maxi Louis, director of the Namibian Association of Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) Support Organization (NACSO), says that she believes conservancies have generally improved people’s attitudes toward wildlife, but fears that “due to COVID-19, those gains will be lost.” The income to support anti-poaching will also be lost.  Without major funding help internationally, Namibia’s successes could be lost, through no fault of Namibians or their government.

Professor Keith Somerville is a member of the Durrell Institute of Conservation, teaches at the Centre for Journalism, is a Fellow of the Zoological Society of London and a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies. He has written books on the ivory trade in Africa, human lion conflict and his latest book– Humans and Hyenas: Monsters or Misrepresented, is out in March 2021.