The rugged northwestern region of Namibia is a wide and beautiful vista of flat-topped mountains, deep ravines, and desert plains. Namibia is home to valuable deposits of gold, the world’s last and largest free-roaming population of black rhinos, and the brave community-based rangers who risk their lives to protect them. One initiative is bringing all three together.
Critically endangered and heavily poached for their horns, black rhinos could easily be extinct within a decade without diligent conservation efforts. Preserving these strong yet vulnerable creatures is a mission held close to the heart of the Namibian communities within their range.
When Vancouver-based gold producer B2Gold opened the Otjikoto Mine in northcentral Namibia, it was adamant from the beginning that the Otjikoto Mine serve Namibians first and foremost. In fact, one of their first initiatives was training and hiring as many local citizens as possible for roles at every level of the mining operation. That same philosophy has directed their philanthropic efforts within the borders of the country.
“We’re in Namibia, mining Namibian gold, so we think it’s a fundamental moral principle that Namibians should benefit from what we’re doing,” says B2Gold’s President and CEO, Clive Johnson. “The whole basis of the culture at B2Gold is about fairness, respect, transparency, and accountability. In my opinion, it’s simply an extension of the kindness inherent in the broader Canadian culture.”
The black rhinos’ community guardians
In their search for local partners to guide their charitable initiatives, B2Gold was introduced to Save the Rhino Trust Namibia (SRT), which has spearheaded efforts to protect the black rhinos for nearly four decades. SRT’s unique conservancy model is built on empowering, recruiting, and training members of local communities to act as rhino rangers, spending long weeks out in the wild tracking and monitoring the wide-ranging black rhinos.
“We’re covering a 25,000 square kilometre area of open land with rhinos moving freely between communities,” says Simson Uri-Khob, SRT’s CEO. “So, we must rely on these communities and the people who know the land. The communities recognize the benefit of the rhinos and they are very tough on poachers. I can guarantee that, without the community involvement, there wouldn’t be nearly as many rhinos in Namibia as there are today.”
SRT’s rhino rangers, often accompanied by armed police, have proven to be remarkably successful at monitoring the rhino population and discouraging poaching. “Our rangers are very proud of what they do,” says Uri-Khob “Every month our rangers sight 80% of all the known rhinos in the region. We know our rhinos like farmers know their cattle.”
Supporting local Namibian initiatives
Securing ongoing funding and support for these critical initiatives, however, has been a persistent challenge. B2Gold began contributing to SRT shortly after they first arrived in Namibia, but soon recognized that a mission this important needed stable and permanent support that would outlive even the Otjikoto Mine. And so, the Namibian Rhino Gold Bar initiative was born.
This initiative could not have come at a better time as, more recently, the biggest challenge to the success of black rhino conservation and protection has been the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizations such as SRT and Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC), which provide critical field-based support to rhino rangers and trackers, have seen their budgets slashed as international donors have greatly reduced their conservation funding because of the pandemic. Also, tourism dollars, which have traditionally supported conservation efforts in the region, have all but vanished. The collapse of this funding — along with far fewer eyes on the black rhinos — is providing new opportunities for poachers to move in. Meaning, the black rhinos have never been so vulnerable.
The knock-on effect of the pandemic has also been devastating for the rural communities that have worked so hard to develop a rhino-based economy. Jobs in conservation, tracking, and tourism, and the means to make a sustainable income, have been severely impacted. The pandemic has generated significant job losses in urban areas which has created an influx of migrants to rural areas. This, in turn, has put increased pressure on natural resources and has ultimately resulted in an increase in poaching.
Securing Namibia’s ecological future with Namibian gold
With the production of 1,000 limited edition gold bars, in various sizes and all featuring striking imagery of black rhinos and the iconic Namibian wilds, B2Gold has made a unique donation of 1,000 ounces of physical gold, valued at approximately 1.9 million USD, to support black rhino conservation and protection.
“The Namibian Rhino Gold Bar initiative is a pure donation of 1,000 ounces of gold from B2Gold,” says SRT board member Ginger Mauney. “B2Gold has also very generously picked up all the costs of the minting and packaging of the bar, including the beautiful box made of sustainably harvested material that it comes in. So, every penny generated by the sale of the gold bars goes directly to community-based rhino conservation and protection.”
Four hundred one-ounce gold bars went on sale in North America on July 31, 2020. The launch coincided with World Ranger Day, which has been observed annually since its initial declaration in 2007. The day recognizes and celebrates the work of rangers around the globe who dedicate their lives to protecting natural and cultural resources. It also provides an opportunity to commemorate rangers injured or killed in the line of duty.
The gold bars are being sold on behalf of B2Gold by Kitco Metals, one of the world’s premier retailers of precious metals. The cost is the spot price of gold (on the day of purchase) plus a 15% conservation premium. The premium is important because it increases the amount raised which will fund the future production of more gold bars, the second limited edition of which will be distinctly different from the first mintage, ensuring this first-of-its-kind conservation initiative becomes self-sustaining.
Investing in the future
Proceeds generated from the sale of the first 600 gold bars are managed and distributed by an advisory committee, which includes representatives from B2Gold, SRT, IRDNC, the Namibia Chamber of Environment, and the Namibia Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism. A portion of these proceeds is already making a positive impact on the ground for the rangers, trackers, and rhinos, and the rural communities whose livelihoods depend on the survival of this species. Future proceeds from the sale of the remaining 400 gold bars will continue to provide significant funds to ensure long-term sustainable financing for black rhino conservation and protection. “The intent is to always keep a chunk of this money invested, so that this fund can last in perpetuity,” says Mauney. “This isn’t only great for community-backed rhino conservation and protection, it’s also a striking example of creative conservation and philanthropy for the future of our planet.”
It is an ambitious and inspired plan that encompasses the full circle of Namibia’s richness in natural resources, wildlife, and engaged citizenry. “Protecting the local wildlife is very important to the people of Namibia, to the degree that it’s enshrined in their constitution,” says Johnson. “So, for us, the idea of using Namibian gold to directly contribute to that was a great way of tying it all together. We’re taking gold that was deposited in Namibia four billion years ago from an exploding star and using it to help save a species that has been roaming the same region for 50 million years.”