The Minnesota Zoo’s Black Rhino Project in Namibia is dedicated to protecting critically endangered rhinos through field research, tracking and monitoring, and community education and engagement. There is no doubt that the tireless efforts of the men and women who patrol the desert has contributed greatly to the success of this conservation project. This area of Namibia has not seen a single poaching event in over 2.5 years!
But the Black Rhino Project is not only about tracking and monitoring rhinoceros in the wild. While that work is crucial to the conservation of the species, education and community engagement act as pillars of the program as well. Through reading programs in area schools and outreach with local farmers and landowners, “Rhino Pride” is growing. As such, it has become increasingly clear how vital this aspect of the project is to the conservation of black rhinos.
Through the outreach work of the Black Rhino Project, members of the local community are intimately involved in and familiar with the conservation program. And they’re not simply receiving brochures with a list of facts detailing the current plight of the black rhino population.
“We’re asking people of the community, as rhino friends, how can we help you? How can we improve your life?” explains Jeff Muntifering, Minnesota Zoo Conservation Biologist. “One of the biggest educational challenges in Kunene, and Namibia as a whole, is reading.”
To address this challenge, the Reading with Rhinos campaign was created in partnership with Mondesa Youth Opportunities. Local schools receive reading materials and teachers are provided with the training necessary to help ensure the success of their students. As Muntifering details, the program aims to improve literacy and to also foster the connection between students and rhinoceros.
“The goal is to bring these resources to schools and support teachers while also integrating positive messaging about rhinos, so that at some point the kids can make the connection that, ‘hey, rhinos helped me read,'” he explains. “This would result in the development of their emotional connections to rhino, like pride, compassion, and gratitude. Hopefully that connection gets passed on to their families as well.”
This past spring, the arrival of a generous book donation from Books for Africa brought much excitement. Over 8,500 books were given to Ministry of Education librarians for distribution to selected primary and secondary schools in or near the black rhino range in north-west Namibia.
It is through this grassroots approach and dedication to community involvement that this region of Namibia can sustain and protect a critical population of black rhinos. We are thrilled to report that Rhino Pride is indeed alive and well!