Poaching and Mining Further Endanger Namibian Rhino Populations

by Vins

Namibia’s environmental minister has approved a plan for mining that will pose a threat to the endangered black rhino, according to a March 2023 article in Mongabay. The activity of the mine has caused the local population of black rhinos to begin migrating, which is not only causing a decrease in tourism and a loss of local tourism-based and conservancy-based jobs but also putting the black rhinos in even more danger of being poached. The //Huab Conservancy plans to sue Pohamba Shifeta if he does not do anything to stop the copper mine and the miner operating it.

The //Huab Conservancy is one of the thirteen community conservancies in the Kunene region in the northwest area of Namibia that is registered under Namibia’s Community-Based Natural Resources Management (CBNRM) program. The CBNRM program was created by the Namibian government in the late 1990s to grant local communities legal rights and control over the ways that their land and its natural resources are managed. The rhino population in the western Kunene region, while not huge, is considered a key-1 population by IUCN. In other words, there are over 100 individual rhinos that make up the population in the western Kunene region. The poaching levels in Kunene remain low because of how active its community leaders are in protecting the rhinos in the long term.

Anyone suspected of being a poacher gets caught rather quickly in Kunene because of the robustness of its conservation programs. While the poaching levels in Kunene remain low, the poaching statistics in all of Namibia in 2021 and 2022 reveal an alarming picture: forty-five Namibian rhinos were poached in 2021, and a staggering eighty-seven Namibian rhinos were poached in 2022. Sixty-one of the eighty-seven rhinos poached in 2022 were black rhinos, a critically endangered species of rhino. Namibia’s chief park, Etosha National Park, was found to be a poaching hotspot. Despite the weaknesses of the Namibian government itself when it comes to decreasing poachings, Namibia’s CBNRM program has been linked to the recovery of populations of endangered species such as the black rhino, and decreased poachings in the areas of Namibia where the CBNRM program has the most control.

The //Huab Conservancy, in order to generate income, signed an agreement with the tour operator, Ultimate Safaris, in 2016. However, the recent mining and blasting activity in the area is causing the rhinos to migrate, which is destroying the only sustainable revenue source for job creation, monthly payments, and royalties. They might need to be relocated for good if the mining and blasting do not stop.

There has been a moderate amount of media coverage of endangered species in general. For example, a March 2023 article for the Guardian—also covered in the Washington Post and by NBC News—revealed that more than a thousand Cambodian monkeys (long-tailed macaques, to be exact) were at risk of being killed or returned to their country of origin, where they would be laundered and re-trafficked. But the rhinos themselves (a species in greater peril, as there are a little over 100 rhinos in western Kunene alone), have gotten less attention. A story about Namibian rhinos—“Rhino poaching surges 93 percent in Namibia”—appeared in Al Jazeera’s Wildlife section. But the Al Jazeera article does not include how mining is affecting the rhino population of Namibia.


Claire Colley and Sophie Kevany, “Fate of 1,000 Trafficked Lab Monkeys at Center of US Investigation in Limbo,” The Guardian, March 20, 2023.

“Rhino Poaching Surges 93 Percent in Namibia,” Al Jazeera, January 31, 2023.

Victoria Schneider, “Namibian Community Protects its Rhinos from Poaching but Could Lose Them to Mining,” Mongabay, March 13, 2023.

Student Researcher: Michael Indovina (Drew University)

Faculty Evaluator: Lisa Lynch (Drew University)