World Rhino Day, September 22nd, 2012 was cold and windy in the town of Swakopmund in the Kunene region of north western Namibia, home to a unique population of Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis bicornis). But the weather didn’t dampen the spirits of the schoolchildren and parents who turned out for a series of community events starting with a fundraising rally on the streets in support of these desert-adapted pachyderms.
Reflecting on the success of the community involvement activities, Sue Wagner, fundraising manager for Save the Rhino Trust in Namibia (SRT), an SOS project partner, recounted her highlight of the day. “My greatest moment in all of the World Rhino Day preparations was a little Grade 3 girl who told me: ‘I know why we must collect money for the rhinos. It's because rhinos belong to the future’. And that's the slogan off one of the SRT educational posters I had supplied to her teacher.”
To support SRT’s anti-poaching project aimed at conserving the world’s largest population of Black Rhinoceros living on unprotected land, Wagner and her colleagues had organised a series of community engagement events to coincide with World Rhino Day and SRT’s 30th anniversary. With Namibia’s remaining black rhino population under threat and a poaching crisis in South Africa and Zimbabwe that may spill over into Namibia, community participation through education, awareness-raising and information sharing, is critical. It helps ensure the long hard hours of patrolling the rhinos’ territories are not in vain. Success of the core activity - performing extensive patrols, tracking and monitoring animals on arid, rough undulating terrain - relies on community engagement for long-term impact because the demand for rhino horn can create a tempting economic incentive enticing poaching by individuals in communities where unemployment rates run high.
This first series of events demonstrated how a sense of pride in local wildlife is one of the best ways of stimulating environmental awareness and conservation among local communities. Events on the day included the fundraising rally and a silent auction at an evening event that together helped raise more than USD$2,000. Schoolchildren, wearing masks and carrying posters while cared for by adults collected donations on the streets of Swakopmund for two hours in return for which they were given a rhino postcard and a free visit to a local snake park. Children were applauded for their entrepreneurial spirit devising additional ways to raise funds including a class room raffle and selling pancakes. Also out on the streets of Swakopmund three trackers wearing their SRT uniforms chatted with members of the public and informally answered questions about the rhinos and their jobs.
The evening event which attracted approximately 100 guests involved a presentation made by SRT senior personnel followed by a silent auction, which all combined, made for a successful community celebration of World Rhino Day, Swakopmund style.