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Hall-Martin, A.; Walker, C.H.; Bothma, J. du P., 1988. Kaokoveld: the last wilderness. Johannesburg, Southern Book Publishers, pp. i-xii, 1-145

Location: Africa - Southern Africa - Namibia
Subject: Distribution - Records
Species: Black Rhino

Original text on this topic:
The historical record concerning black rhino in the Kaokoveld is sporadic and incidental. Surveys by Shortridge provided the first reasonable summary of rhino distribution and habits in the territory. He found them scattered from the Ugab River to the Kunene, but nowhere east of a line from the Upper Ugab River, past Fransfontein, through Onaiso to the Kunene west of the Ruacana Falls. This range excludes most of the present-day Etosha National Park except for the western area around Otjovasandu, and indeed Shortridge commented that rhino were 'unknown in the Namutoni Game Reserve'.
Shortridge estimated a population of between 40 and 80 animals and mentioned that poaching of rhino by the Himba was already prevalent at that time. He also commented that 'the rhinoceros is the only animal in the Kaokoveld the existence of which is seriously threatened'. He identified the threat as local hunters, who shot them as they approached waterholes, and attributed the survival of a population of rhino to none other than 'a shortage of ammunition amongst the natives'. If the rhino were poached as relentlessly as claimed by Shortridge than it is likely that there were far more in the Kaokoveld than he estimated.
A comprehensive survey carried out by Dr Eugene Joubert of the Directorate of Nature Conservation in 1966 showed that black rhino were more widely distributed than Shortridge had realised. In addition to the range given in 1934, Joubert could add isolated rhino in the Erongo Mountains, a few scattered animals south of the Ugab River and isolated patches of rhino occurrence east of Fransfontein on the upper reaches of the Ugab near Outjo; and within Etosha at Gobaub and Grunewald.
Joubert was able not only to gather information from his field surveys and waterhole counts, but also to compile information on the status of rhino during the previous 20 years. This was because large areas of the Kaokoveld along the Huab and Ugab Rivers were given out as farms and settled by whites in. 1948. WCreldsend was one such farm, as was Palmwag, and others around Grootberg. On all of these farms rhino were shot by the settlers as part of the ethic of 'taming' the land (and placating nervous shepherds).
After sifting through all his data, Joubert arrived at the conclusion that at the time of Shortridge's surveys there could have been 200-250 black rhino in the Kaokoveld. The decline predicted by Shortridge had occurred and Joubert's estimate for 1966 was that there were only 90 black rhino left. Of these 25 were north of the Hoanib River and 48 occurred in what was at that time (pre-Odendaal Commission) Game Reserve No. 2 - the original Etosha National Park. (There were 8 animals in the east, and the remaining 40 were scattered from Okawao and Otjovasandu southwards in the escarpment country around the upper reaches of the Hoanib, the Uniab and the Koichab as far a Springbokwasser on the Koichab River.) Another 17 were found elsewhere in adjoining territory (Ugab River, Doros Craters, Twyfel- fontein). The last-mentioned animals were not only in farming areas where there was little hope of their survival, but had also been reduced to small local populations of widely scattered individuals with little hope of regular contact and breeding.
Within Kaokoland (north of the Hoanib River) the 25 rhino were mostly concentrated in three large areas. These were in the north (Zebra to Baynes Mountains and Kunene); west (around Orupembe and Sanitatas) and in the south (around Purros). There were also a few animals at Kaoko Otavi and in the upper reaches of the Hoarusib around Otjiwero.
The proposals of the infamous Odendaal Commission to cut off the entire western part of Etosha from near Otjovasandu meant that most of the black rhino range identified by Joubert would fall outside protected areas and the survival of the black rhino was therefore in jeopardy. The Directorate of Nature Conservation, under the late Bemabe de la Bat, then launched one of the most far-sighted, successful and significant yet least-known projects ever undertaken to conserve black rhino in Africa. A total of 43 black rhino were captured and translocated to within the boundaries of Etosha (as defined by the Odendaal Commission) between 1967 and 1972 and more followed in later years to bring the total to 52 rhino moved. Had this action not been taken it is very likely that many of these animals would have been shot and Etosha today would not have one of the largest populations of black rhino in Africa.
The bulk of the capture operations were planned and carried out by the game capture team of the D.N.C., led by the late Dr Ian Hofmeyr. Many practical problems relating to drug dosages, needles, bomas, crates and field vehicles, were successfully overcome. These operations and later translocations within Etosha, also conducted by Ian Hofmeyr, ensured the safety of rhino in Etosha and developed for Namibia an excellent rhino capture team.
Rhino were initially moved to the Otjovasandu area and then to Ombika, a waterhole near Okaukuejo, then to Halali and finally to Namutoni. The Hofmeyr and De la Bat legacy lives on, in that the D.N.C. capture team was responsible for catching six black rhino in the Otjovasandu area in 1985 for translocation to the Augrabies Falls National Park in South Af- rica. Among these animals was an old bull that had been moved by Ian Hofmeyr to Etosha from Damaraland in 1970-72. In 1987 the capture team was in action again when six black rhino were translocated to the Vaalbos National Park, also in South Africa.
Garth Owen-Smith, when he published his report in 1971 on his work in the Kaokoveld from 1968 to 1970, estimated a total population of not less than 100 and possibly as many as 150 black rhino in Kaokoland, north of the Hoanib River. This was a considerably higher estimate than the figure of 25 given by Eugene Joubert in 1966, and the 30 estimated by Joubert and Peter Mostert in 1975. However, heavy poaching considerably reduced the number of rhino and in 1977 when Slang Viljoen reported on an intensive survey of Kaokoland he concluded that no more than 20 rhino were left. This was after heavy poaching in the early 1970s had taken its toll.
Viljoen also found that individual rhino were seen at localities up to 100 km apart and he argued that if the individuals were not known, it would be quite likely that an overestimate of numbers would result. He reported that rhino had disappeared from virtually all of the localities mentioned by Joubert and Owen-Smith in the Ovahimba highlands and the eastern plateau. There were also no longer any rhino along the Kunene. He reported three individual sightings of rhino in the Heowa Valley, the Steilrand Mountains (Ekoto) and east of the Joubert Mountains (Otuzemba) in 1975. Other than these, the only reports from east of the escarpment were from the Beesvlakte and areas adjoining the Etosha National Park. The rest of the rhino occurred in the western desert areas and the escarpment zone.
To the south of the Hoanib, rhino were scattered in the western plains and in the escarpment zone as far south as the Ugab, with occasional wanderers to the Skeleton Coast. The stronghold for the Damaraland rhino was the upper reaches of the Uniab and its tributaries and the western slopes and foothills of the Grootberg Mountain. The rhino reached their lowest numbers around 1982, when only 50 could be accounted for south of the Hoanib. This figure indicated that most of the previous estimates of black rhino numbers had been too conservative.
Rhino poaching, which was often coupled with elephant poaching, accelerated during the late 1970s and reached a peak of intensity during the 1982 drought. By then rhino were being poached in the Uniab Basin and around the Grootberg. The lowest numbers were reached during the dry season of 1981 and the summer of 1982. An intensive aerial census of the western desert region from the Ugab to the Kunene carried out during July 1982 indicated that there were probably no more than 55 rhino left in the entire area. No rhino were seen in Kaokoland north of the Hoanib, but spoor seen from the air and later checked by ground patrols indicated that perhaps as many as five rhino were left in the western desert regions. Two were in the Nadas/ Munutum area west of Orupembe, and three in the lower Hoanib/ Tsuxab area. In Damaraland a total of 23 rhino were counted. This count and observations made of known an'mals indicated a population of about 20 animals in the Grootbe area, and as many as 30 animals in the rest of this range. The grand total for the entire Kaokoveld in 1982 was thus about 55 animals. During these aerial and ground surveys 29 rhino carcasses, most of which had been poached during the preceding three years, were recorded.
From about 1982 the influence of N.W.T.'s anti-poaching surveillance, the impact of Chris Eyre, whom the D.N.C. posted to Khorixas, increased patrolling by Rudi and Blythe Loutit from the Skeleton Coast Park and information provided by Viljoen's study began to be felt. Poaching was slowly brought under control. After the rains of February 1982, conditions for the rhino were presumably also improved - even though the drought had not affected their population to any great extent. Reproduction has been good; only two rhino were poached in the five-year period 1982-86, and by the end of that time the estimates of black rhino numbers, based largely on monitoring of individually known and recorded rhino, had climbed to a minimum of 60 animals.
The conservation work in the Kaokoveld was initiated by the S.A. Nature Foundation's sponsorship of Viljoen's study. The information he produced on the decline in wildlife numbers led to the involvement of the Endangered Wildlife Trust and other conservation organisations. Their efforts were then built on by the D.N.C., and the outcome has been an unqualified success. If surveillance and protection can be maintained this population should continue to show healthy recruitment. An identification file listing each of the rhino was kept by Ruth and Duncan Gilchrist and later handed over to Blythe Loutit and Martin Britz. They also measured footprints and noted small features of shape and pattern of the spoor which allowed them and their Damara trackers to identify each animal.

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