The Desert-Adapted Rhinos of the Kunene


Namibia has some beautiful environments and one such place is the Kunene region in the North. The region, which is divided into Damaraland and Kaokoland, is mostly desert and semi-desert yet is home to three remarkably large mammals. Specially adapted rhinos, elephants and lions live out their lives in this wind swept and beautifully stark region. Here's more info on the desert adapted black rhinos found in Damaraland and how to catch a glimpse of them on your next trip to Namibia.

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The Kunene after some good rains.
(image courtesy of SRI via Save the Rhino)

What is a desert-adapted rhino?

Many people already know that the black rhino is one of the most endangered large mammals in the world. It is also well-documented that since the 1980’s Namibia has been re-introducing these magnificent beasts into the wild with enormous success.

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Black rhino and calf.
(image courtesy of Areb Busch)

One of the most interesting types of black rhinos that have been rehabilitated in Namibia are the desert adapted black rhinos of the Kunene region. Hunting and poaching had totally eradicated their populations in the arid regions, but since the 1980’s thanks to the work of organisations like the Save the Rhino Trust the population of these national treasures has increased five times!

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Desert-adapted black rhinos at dusk.
(image courtesy of Namibia Tours Safaris)

These specially adapted beasts are able to withstand sweltering heat in excess of 40°C (100°F) and below freezing temperatures that are common place when the sun goes down in the arid regions of Namibia. The rhinos are mostly nocturnal so that they can avoid the excessive heat of the day.

Rhinos caught by a stealth camera on a night-time frolick.
(video courtesy of Save the Rhino International)

What makes desert-adapted rhinos different?

You will know when you have spotted a desert rhino because they look a bit different to other black rhinos. First things first, have a look at the rhinos below; do you notice anything different when compared to other black rhinos?

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You will notice that the horn is slightly longer and thinner than a regular Namibian black rhino, this helps desert rhinos to forage in barren environments.

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A more pronounced example of these animals' specially adapted horns.
(images courtesy of Save the Rhino)

The Rhinos of the Kunene are also unlike other black rhinos in that they are usually found on their own and not in small groups. However, the mother will stay with her calf for up to two and a half years which is long enough for her to teach her young how to survive in the tough conditions found in their habitat.

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Mother and calf foraging in a dried up river bed
(image courtesy of Save the Rhino)

As a result many desert rhino are ‘lone rangers’ and they cut striking figures on the orange and brown backdrops of the natural landscapes. Some of the lone bulls have been known to be quite aggressive, so keep this in mind should you ever be so lucky as to spot one in the wild.

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Ben the lone bull, fabled to be quite a no-nonsense character.
(image courtesy of Anne and Steve Toon via African Rhino)

How can you get close to the rhinos?

These animals roam in a 25,000km2 region, which is only a little bit smaller than the whole of Belgium! The rhinos are also experts at traversing this massive area and have home ranges of between 500km2-600km2. So if you want to spot a desert rhino in its natural environment you will have to be very patient and very committed.

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You need a keen eye and enormous amounts of patience to spot one of these shy creatures.
(image courtesy of Vicki Brown)

One of the best ways to attempt to get close to these exceedingly rare creatures is to stay a few days at the Desert Rhino Camp. This beautifully appointed lodge is located in Palmwag Reserve (also known as the Palmwag Concession) and is one of the few places in the world that offer guided desert rhino tracking excursions.

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With a bit of luck you could spot some of these mighty creatures!
(image courtesy of the Namibian)

The camp is a mobile camp and can be moved all around the region so that it can stay close to the ever-migrating herds of desert adapted animals. As a result there is only space for 12 guests and you will need to book in advance in order to spend some time searching for the rhinos.

The camp not only takes tourists on tours of the rgion but also is an active participant in the promotion and conservation of the deser-adapted black rhino.

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A tracker recording a rare sighting of one of the rhinos.
(image courtesy of African Rhino)

How can you help?

The Save the Rhino trust is always looking for donors and you can pledge however much you want right here. Beyond just simple donations there are numerous ways in which you can get involved, so check out the trust’s relevant section the website by clicking on this link.

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Experience the magic of these curious and rare creatures!
(image courtesy of African Rhino)


More on this topic

Read about a desert rhino tracking adventure 

Download our adventure travel planning guide

Read about the Desert Adapted Elephants

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