Over thirty years ago, the pioneering spirit of Blythe Loutit and other like-minded conservation driven individuals responded to the hideous slaughter and poaching of wild elephant and rhino in what is now known as the Kunene region (previously known as the Kaokoland) in north western Namibia. Outraged by their senseless demise at the hands of poachers, Blythe and Ina Britz founded the Save the Rhino Trust (SRT) to protect the desert dwelling black rhino. Their commitment and dedication has meant that tourists to this spectacular part of Namibia can now enjoy finding these magnificent beasts while contributing to the research and conservation of this species.
Wilderness Safaris partnered with SRT as a model for responsible eco-tourism between an NGO and a commercial operation with the opening of Desert Rhino Camp in 2003. The partnership provides employment as well as income for the tracking, monitoring and research of black rhino. Ten years later, the partnership is healthy, flourishing and doing really worthwhile work to build on what was originally a desperate situation.
We joined the team to see if we would be lucky enough to get a chance to find a black rhino. Teamwork between the camp guides and SRT trackers, who normally go out earlier than the guests (before 06h00) to see if they can pick up fresh rhino tracks. If they are lucky enough to find fresh tracks, they radio through their location and the camp guides then bring the guests in to take part in the tracking. This is not guaranteed of course, and you may be lucky enough to find a rhino from the comfort of the game drive vehicle, or you may have to work a little for your sighting given the vast area in which the camp and SRT operates.
It is best to be prepared for a good walk as the terrain is quite rough and rocky so sensible and comfortable hiking shoes are a must. Even though you are out quite early and it can be a bit cool at that time, you need to also be able to peel off layers of clothing so that you can still be comfortable as the sun gets warmer and actually quite hot. A camera that doesn’t go “bing bong la la laaa” when you turn it on is a must. If your camera does sing to you every time you turn it in, it is a good idea to find the setting to turn that off. The reason for this is you may actually get quite close to a black rhino and because they are renowned for their grumpy temperament, you will be glad you took the time to turn the welcome tune off!
The other thing to remember too is that, although black rhino don’t have particularly good eye-sight, they can still easily see bright colours, especially anything white is not a good idea - just like a red flag to a bull! Typical bush colours of khaki and greens are a much better option. The SRT and Wilderness guides are extremely experienced and they will remind guests of these points before going out.
It is a really special adrenalin-charging feeling to creep up to a black rhino quietly and carefully. To have the privilege of seeing a mother and calf walking happily in their own environment is quite special beyond words.
Is it safe…Well if you follow the advice of the guides, have patience, are well prepared, then you will be just fine and the experience will sit in your heart and memory forever. Very special indeed, plus it provides SRT with valuable data on the desert rhino!