Rhino conservationist honoured

19 October 2009 | News story

On 19th October, the IUCN Species Survival Commission presented the Sir Peter Scott Award for Conservation Merit to Zimbabwean Raoul du Toit, in recognition of his exceptional efforts and successes in the field of African rhino conservation.

The award was presented at a ceremony in Harare, Zimbabwe by Dr Holly Dublin, Chair of the SSC African Elephant Specialist Group, and Dr Jon Hutton, member of the SSC Steering Committee, both representing the SSC Chair, Dr Simon Stuart who was unable to be present.

Raoul studied at the University of Cape Town, and began his career in Environmental Impact Assessment, after which he turned his attention and talents to rhino conservation work as Scientific Officer for the IUCN SSC’s African Elephant and Rhino Specialist Group, coordinating the conservation efforts of technical experts across Africa from 1985 to 1988. In 1989, Raoul joined the African Rhino Specialist Group, of which he is still a member.

For the next 20 years, Raoul worked for the WWF, during which time he developed a project to survey the status of black rhinos in the Zambezi Valley. In 1990, Raoul was seconded to the Zimbabwean Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management. With funding from the Beit Trust, and in collaboration with WWF, he worked as a technical cooperation officer, initiating and implementing the Rhino Conservancy Project in Zimbabwe, which translocated over 100 black rhinos to the Lowveld conservancies. As a result of this project, population numbers of this Critically Endangered species within the conservancies grew to in excess of 300 individuals, which currently constitutes approximately 80% of Zimbabwe’s remaining black rhino population.

Raoul’s dedication, commitment and technical know-how contributed significantly to the establishment of effective monitoring systems, community outreach programmes and improved law enforcement efforts, all of which helped in responding to the economic and political challenges experienced by these private sector projects. His dedication to rhino conservation is further reflected in his efforts to establish and co-ordinate a regional rhino conservation programme for the Southern African Development Community.

With poaching placing increased pressure on Zimbabwe’s rhino populations, and the need to achieve improved coordination between stakeholders and donors, Raoul established the Lowveld Rhino Trust, becoming its Director in January 2009. The Trust maintains the capacity to implement intensive rhino management operations, including translocations and snare removals, as well as develop greater incentives for local communities in the hopes of gaining their support for rhino conservation.

The Sir Peter Scott Award for Conservation Merit dates back to 1984, and is presented to individuals in recognition of significant and long term service to the conservation of wild fauna or flora, particularly threatened species, through their work with the Species Survival Commission or associated institutions.