Rhinoceroses have terrible eyesight, a very good sense of smell, and a rather dour disposition. Here’s a word of advice when near one of these primordial creatures: Stay quiet and upwind. One might forgive a rhino for its testy attitude, however. Its horns have made it a major target for poachers. Just last year, 668 rhinos were killed in South Africa, a 5,000 percent increase in poaching since 2007, owed largely to the increasing demand for horns in Asian markets.
A number of governmental, conservation, and tourism organizations are working to combat the problem in South Africa and nearby countries. Meanwhile, neighboring Namibia, a little-populated patchwork of empty deserts, is a rare bright spot for the species—and for conservation tourism. Here, a number of communities and businesses have partnered to found private reserves and sustainable-tourism lodges, which train and employ locals in sustainable livelihoods that negate the need for poaching. Now more than 40 percent of the country is protected land, and, last year, no rhinos were killed. In fact, conservation-tourism projects in Namibia have helped grow the population of this sensitive species.
There are numerous ecolodges that travelers can support in Namibia, such as Desert Rhino Camp, which is run in conjunction with the Save the Rhino Trust. The largest population of free-ranging black rhinos lives here—thanks to the camp’s resuscitation efforts—and guests can track them on foot ($488 per person per night; wilderness-safaris.com) through the wild monochrome expanse of the Namib Desert.
Alternatively, opt for an 11-day conservation safari through Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa with the African Safari Company. Travelers visit a wild cat sanctuary in Namibia and participate in a rhino-darting conservation program in South Africa’s Kwandwe Private Game Reserve, which is an effort to combat the poaching epidemic. Travelers help researchers spot rare black rhinos and drill microchips into their horns to track potential poachers. Along the way, they also meet San Bushmen in Namibia; track giraffes, elephants, lions, and other creatures; and contemplate remote rock-art sites that have endured the ages.