Amidst awful stories of elephants and rhinos slaughtered by poachers in Africa, Namibia stands out for its cutting-edge approach to protecting wildlife.
Author Rick Bass talks about how former poachers have been enlisted to protect the animals they once killed.
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Marco Werman: In many parts of Africa high tech is a distraction from the natural wonders in your midst anyway. We’re going to Namibia now where we’ll find the extraordinary Black Rhinoceros. If it weren’t so dangerous you could just watch the rhino for hours. Writer Rick Bass left the comfort of his home in Montana and headed to Namibia’s vast Namib Desert to see the Black Rhino for himself and to find out more about how Namibia protects the species. His account of it is the Black Rhinos of Namibia: Searching for Survivors in the African Desert, Bass did see a Black Rhino, a mother and her baby.
Rick Bass: We were hiding we thought safely watching her from several miles and she just came straight to us. We had the wind in our favor, it was inexplicable why she came to us. So we weren’t hiding right on her watering hole, we were just out in the middle of this Mars-like desert, and she just came all the way to us, you know, within 30′, just point blank. And then you know, they have very bad eyesight, but they have really good sense of hearing and smell, and she finally got so close she could even smell us upwind and she did not like it. It was a really tense
Werman: Did she turn and run away or charge
Bass: She pawed, yeah, she pawed and grunted and blasted this bizarre geyser of urine, which I didn’t know they did, straight into the sky, like Old Faithful or something. And her baby was with her and her baby was freaking out and so she turned and went back to her baby and they ran off, but she was not happy to be just out for a stroll and to walk right up on us.
Werman: So it seems like Namibia was able to turn this decreasing population of rhinos around. I mean are there lessons from Namibia that could be applied elsewhere in Africa?
Bass: Yeah, no, I think so and what’s interesting to me is Africa is kind of a leader, Namibia is kind of a leader in this conservation model. One of the interesting things that these groups did, most notably, Save the Rhino Trust, was to go out and hire poachers to protect the rhinos and pay them more to walk around collecting data on the rhinos and protecting them than to, than they would get killing them and sawing the horns off. So that was a large turn. Subsequently, over the decades there has built up a culture in these communities of oh, the rhinos are good for our economy, they bring people in to look at them, we want to protect them. So that’s a really important distinction as well. Now people are just being paid to protect rhinos, they want to protect the rhinos.
Werman: What’s the attitude of these former poachers who are now guarding the rhinos toward the actual poachers who are working now?
Bass: Well, I mean what I’m not being clear about here is how desperately poor the villages are. There’s not the luxury of moral judgements. If there’s a poacher coming in to kill a rhino, that’s the same as the poacher coming in to take away the guards’ livelihood. That’s a bad situation for both and vice versa. It’s quite a different dynamic. You know, it’s a cliche to say that every day is a struggle to survive. It’s you know, I don’t think it’s even broken down into days, but rather portions of days, you know, morning, noon and night. It’s a tough go out there. Water limited, I mean the Namib Desert, it is one of the driest places on earth and it’s, people have lived there a long time, but it’s never been easy and it never will be.
Werman: Rick, thank you very much. Good to speak with you.
Bass: You too, thanks again.
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