Rhinos our speciality

(This article was originally published in The Horn, Autumn 2015.  Author: Mick KnightChair, AfRSG)

The African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG) is one of about 130 IUCN SSC (International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Species Survival Commission) groups focused on particular taxa, in this case, white and black rhinos. I was appointed Chair in 2011, and carry out AfRSG duties in addition to my full-time work for SANParks; I am supported by Vice Chair Dr Benson Okita, now working for Save the Elephants, and by Dr Richard Emslie, the AfRSG’s Scientific Officer.

The AfRSG’s goal is to promote the recovery and long-term management of viable populations of the various subspecies of Africa’s rhinos in the wild. We work across all African rhino Range States: Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, (Mozambique), Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Our 10 objectives are as follows:

  1. To provide the CITES Secretariat and CITES Parties with the best information to make informed and balanced decisions
  2. To facilitate rhino conservation mechanisms through liaison
  3. To recommend best practice and capacity building of Range States and their rhino programmes
  4. To facilitate the spread of information on rhino-related issues amongst Range States and civil society through enhanced communication and awareness activities
  5. To cultivate and maintain a positive donor support base
  6. To assist donors in making informed and strategic decisions on project applications by others
  7. To assist in minimising illegal rhino-related activities by assisting investigation and prosecution efforts and enabling decision makers (judiciary) to make informed decisions
  8. To enhance rhino conservation through the development of rhino conservation plans, strategies and policies
  9. To manage all funds within budget and time constraints, and efficient project management.
  10. To deal with any miscellaneous rhino-related issues or queries

Some of our activities are known long in advance (such as CITES Conferences of the Parties or Standing Committee meetings and AfRSG biennial meetings), while others are shorter notice (e.g. national rhino plans) or even shorter reactive emergency responses, particularly given the current rhino poaching crisis. Other aspects of our work include contributing reports for Pachyderm, the biannual Journal of the African Elephant, African Rhino and Asian Rhino Specialist Groups.

We receive very welcome support from Save the Rhino International, which has taken on the burden of managing grant applications and reporting to a number of donors; deals with all the meeting logistics: booking flights, internal transfers, accommodation and conference facilities, and taking care of dietary requirements and room allocations. The Endangered Wildlife Trust manages our bank account and all income receipts and payments. We also receive grants for our ongoing work and the AfRSG meetings from a wide range of donors: African Wildlife Foundation, the UK’s Dept of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, International Rhino Foundation, Nino the Rhino, Peace Parks Foundation, Save the Rhino, WWF-African Rhino Programme and WWF-South Africa, and SANParks very kindly covers my time on AfRSG business.

The AfRSG would not be as effective as it is without the active participation of its members: between the 55 of us, we have centuries’ worth of experience! And while the formal, acronym-filled meetings are invaluable, it’s amazing what you can resolve over a beer or two round the campfire.


Save the Rhino has set aside $5,000 from its core funds for the AfRSG 2016 meeting and £6,400 for ongoing activities. USFWS gave $15,000 for ongoing activities. USFWS has awarded $44,653, our sister non-profit SRI Inc. $5,000, Defra £15,000 and IRF $2,500 for the 2016 meeting. The Anna Merz Rhino Trust has donated $12,000, Nino the Rhino donated €3,393 and the International Elephant Foundation $5,000 for Pachyderm. Our grateful thanks to all of these donors. We could not function without this kind support.