Robin Hurt is a distinguished professional hunter and conservationist. He was born in London in 1945, yet grew up on the Hurt Family ranch in Kenya where he followed his father’s footsteps to become knowledgeable and passionate about the African bush. He turned his love for adventure into a career and became a fully licensed professional hunter by the age of 18. Since then, he has been licensed in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan, Central African Republic, Zaire, Botswana, Zambia and Namibia. He initiated community projects in Tanzania and his sons now run that operation including community benefits. In addition to being a successful businessman and respected professional hunter, he is also an accredited writer and avid conservationist.
This passion for African wildlife led Robin to pass down the family owned safari businesses and the community projects onto his two sons so that he and his wife, Pauline, can focus on their rhino conservation efforts. They now live in the foothills of Gamsberg Mountain and Mt. Barry mountain range in Namibia where they allow their twelve rhinos to roam freely on their 20,000 acre land mostly bordered naturally by mountains.
Ten years prior, during the height of the poaching crisis of rhinos in mid 2010’s, Robin and Pauline decided to make a positive impact by utilizing their vast acreage of beautiful wilderness to bring back the rhino population to their area in Namibia. This area has not seen rhinos in 100 years due to poaching and loss of habitat. The Hurt's land is ideally suited to all the many species of wildlife that thrive in Namibia, including the endangered white rhinos. Since purchasing their first five rhinos in 2014, they have had the pleasure of watching seven rhinos be born on the property. All of Robin and Pauline’s conservation efforts are built on their philosophy that ‘for wildlife to survive in a changing Africa, it must be a competitive form of land use benefiting human communities'. Now, thanks to conservationists like the Hurts and the Namibian government's positive involvement, Namibia boasts the largest free roaming of Black Rhino and Cheetahs, and is known for their remarkable turnaround for African Wildlife.
My grandparents, Dotty and Charlie Duke, are good friends of Robin and Pauline's and share the same mutual wildlife and habitat conservation ideals. I had the pleasure of speaking with Robin over the phone to learn more about what all is involved in owning rhinos, the daily risks and threats they face, and where the future of rhino conservation lies.
STERLING: I'd love to hear a brief overview of 'Habitat for Rhinos' and how you and Pauline decided to get hands-on with rhino conservation.
ROBIN: 'Habitat for Rhinos' is a wildlife conservation project in Namibia. Pauline came up with the idea of introducing rhinos here as there have been no rhinos in the area for the past 100 years. In 2014 we introduced 5 rhinos to the area, and now we have 12.
The Initial idea of “Habitat for Rhino“ (a Robin Hurt Safaris CC conservation project) was the idea of my wife Pauline (known locally as the ‘ Pied Piper ‘ because of her love of all wildlife). In Tanzania we have a project that benefits human communities and which turns poachers into anti-poachers (Robin Hurt Wildlife Foundation). Where we live, there are no human communities apart from those of us who live and work on private ranches. So, Pauline’s idea was simply to conserve rhino, so we could give back for a lifetime of safari in Africa. So the rhino project was not formed especially to benefit human communities, but rather to benefit rhino conservation - though the rhino do make for an interesting attraction to visitors in our area and are a benefit to us and our employees in that they stimulate tourism.
Wow. Was it due to poaching that there were no rhinos in the area for the past 100 years?
The rhinos decreased as people moved into the lands. Perhaps the people saw the rhinos as a nuisance so they were killed off. We know they were there as we see bushman drawings that depict rhinos.
Besides helping to restore the species of rhino in Namibia, do you have any specific goals for how many rhinos you want to have on your land?
There is a limit to how many rhinos we can hold. I’m not sure the exact number, but it depends on the conditions. This year we've had good rain and good vegetation so at the moment, I would say we could hold around 100 rhinos. But we have to base our goals on the worst possible conditions. When we had six years of drought we had to feed all of the rhinos alfalfa which was very expensive. I would say, realistically, we could hold a maximum of thirty rhinos.
But if that happened and we reached maximum carrying capacity, we would need to find like minded people who would be willing to conserve rhino on their land. We do know of some people who are willing to help in that regard. Harboring rhino on private land is extremely complex, expensive and risky because of the poaching threat. There are not a lot of land owners that would be willing to take on this responsibility.
Are there any governmental regulations on how many you can have?
No, there are no regulations, it is up to us. We do have to keep in contact with the government on how many rhinos we have. We only contact the government in the event of a birth or a death. If it’s a death, then it is a major performance - police and anti-poaching units have to come out to make sure it wasn’t a poaching incident and confirm that it was from natural causes. We have only had one death. A calf fell into a crevice and died - it was absolutely horrible. We were distraught. But these things can happen.
What is the biggest problem to you right now relating to your rhino?
The biggest problem is the poaching threat. We thankfully have had no poaching problems but it is a constant threat that we have to be prepared for. We have two armed security guards that patrol every day and track the rhinos and report back to us. Every day they track the rhinos and sometimes have to travel 20 km a night in many different directions because the rhinos are free ranging on 20,000 acres. All anti-poaching rangers have a militaristic training approach because it is an extremely dangerous thing to do. Poachers are very dangerous people. They are willing to start armed conflict. They are criminals and they are thieves... Wildlife thieves. The price of rhino horn is 4x the price of gold per ounce so it is a big thing to look after.
I’ve read everywhere that the demand lies in Asia. Do you believe that to be accurate?
Yes. They think it has magical medicinal purposes, but it doesn’t. It’s all in the mind. The only solution is harvesting of horn which can be done harmlessly. You can remove a horn five times in the animal’s lifetime. Just like your fingernail, it grows back. By allowing that then it would eliminate illegal poaching of rhino. So far, requests to allow the harvesting of horn have been forbidden. The international body is causing this hiccup. Countries that don’t have rhinos don’t understand how expensive it is to look after these animals.
Where do you see the future of rhino conservation going? Right now in South Africa, over one third of rhinos are held privately. Do you think the number of privately owned rhinos will increase over the entirety of Africa?
In our area of Namibia, there are only two land holdings stewarding rhino. Elsewhere in the country there are over 30 likeminded conservationists that harbor rhino on their land. With the high threat of poaching not many people are willing to take them. Hopefully that will change as the government is taking zero tolerance approach to poaching. If poaching continues at the present rate there will be no rhinos in 10 years time. It is a serious thing.
When you say that Namibia has zero-tolerance on poaching, can you elaborate a little more on what that looks like?
If anybody is caught poaching they would be prosecuted and sentenced to jail. And anyone in illegal possession of rhino horn would also be sentenced around 10-15 years in jail. The country has the best wildlife conservation record anywhere in Africa.
Do you think that if private rhino ownership increases in fifty years, let’s say, and the majority of rhinos are owned privately, that this could lead to more problems such as domestication of the animals?
Domestication could happen. Our rhinos are free range, and we treat them as wild animals because that’s what they are. From my point of view, I wouldn’t want a domesticated animal, but it is happening in South Africa. There is one guy who owns over 1,000 rhinos and is domesticating them. (read about this rhino farm in my other article here) Although, he is doing a great job whichever way you look at it (as in increasing the populations and protecting the animals from poachers). Yet, he is struggling to pay for it. It is a huge, expensive undertaking. We have 20,000 acres with a natural border of mountains, except for one side which is bordered by an electric fence so the animals don’t roam onto our neighbors land. I prefer to see the rhinos free.
I consider myself a dedicated conservationist- a wildlife manager - someone who chooses to manage wild animals, rather that domestic livestock. Conservation of wildlife is crucial to the wellbeing and livelihoods of all who live and work here on our land. As our African staff say “The Maasai and other cattle herders, are wealthy because they have many cattle - but, our wealth is our wildlife." We look after those wild animals carefully, just as cattle herders look after their cows.
Photograph of Robin and Pauline Hurt, taken by their son, Derek Hurt
I want to thank ...
Robin for taking the time to speaking with me and to thank him, Pauline, and all others who are taking the risks he outlines in our conversation above in order to restore, preserve, and protect the Southern White Rhino in Namibia. This includes Dan Mousley (Pauline’s son) and his wife Jana - who after all will have the responsibility of conserving rhinos here on their land in Namibia, in the future.
This is not just a species we need to protect, but a world we need to preserve. As Robin said, "If the poaching were to continue at the current rate, we would have no more rhino in ten years". If you are asking yourself, 'how can I help', I have a few suggestions:
Research - Do your own research on the illegal wildlife trade and poaching. You will find the trade is a very sophisticated, organized operation involving extensive criminal networks. The more one can be knowledgable about the issue, the more one will want to help and realize that this is an issue we should not ignore.