Field Insight with Simson Uri-Khob

(This article was originally published in The Horn, autumn 2014. Author: Simson Uri-Khob - CEO, Save the Rhino Trust)

Congratulations on your new role as CEO of Save the Rhino Trust! Can you describe the work you will now be doing?

Thank you. On top of the fieldwork co-ordination, I will be responsible for running the Trust in all aspects. I will focus on leading the Trust, representing it at high-level meetings with politicians and donors, and making sure that my staff are well looked after and happy with the work they do.

How did you get involved with rhino conservation and how long have you worked at SRT?

Long story short: while I helped maintain the Trust’s vehicles I become good friends with Blythe Loutit, (who co-founded the Trust with her husband Rudi). I think she saw more conservation value in me than I thought and offered me a job with SRT. I started as a welder and supervisor for the junior staff who built elephant protection walls in the communal farms. Not long I found myself tracking rhino with elderly trackers who taught me all the tricks to track rhino. Some 13 years later I found myself at Canterbury University where I gained my Master’s degree – this was for my field experience that I built up during my experience of rhino conservation. I went through the ranks at SRT and finally became CEO. Thanks to the late Blythe and Mike Hearn, who left me behind in their shoes.

We understand that you have always been very involved with local communities. What does community conservation mean to you?

Community conservation is the most important aspect of conservation success on communal land. My perception is that if you work with wildlife within a community then there is always the question: ”What are we getting from this wildlife that causes us problems?’’ Therefore it is important that the communities know the value of wildlife; they should benefit from wildlife and at the same time become co-owners to be able to absorb the losses and conflicts.

What do you enjoy most about working in rhino conservation?

Tracking rhino with the trackers; watching the rhino’s behaviour and collecting data. Also during rhino capture operations, I enjoy being close to the rhino when we are working with them on the ground.

With so many different challenges, is there a typical working day?

My work day starts mostly at very different times, but no later than 6:30am and stops usually around 10pm. It’s not like you always know where to start and where to go for the day. I mostly like to have a programme but have realised it never works out; I work with people on different programmes and sometimes I have to follow their plans and not mine.

How have you seen rhino conservation change in Namibia?

Rhino conservation in Namibia has changed within the 23 years I have been working. It is more now in the hand of the communities, where previously it was the sole responsibility of the government. Also communities in conservancies are getting direct benefits through rhino tracking tourism or pay-back for good conservation efforts.

What do you think are the three key challenges facing SRT?

Funding, poaching threat and political willingness. If the politicians do not support rhino conservation then it will be a problem for our rhino, because they are the strongest people.

What future do you see for Namibia’s rhinos?

If we manage to stop the poaching before it’s out of hand, we surely will have a very healthy black rhino population in Namibia. As we talk, we are the world leaders in this species. We have experienced some poaching in the Kunene, but have joined forces with many to combat and stop these idiots from killing our valuable assets; the rhino.

Interview by Rory Harding, Michael Hearn Intern.