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How Namibia Is Winning the War Against Rhino Poachers

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An endangered east African black rhinoceros and her young one walk in Tanzania's Serengeti park in 2010.Tom Kirkwood / Reuters file

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South Africa lost more than 1,000 rhinos to poachers last year. So how did only four get poached in neighboring Namibia, where elephant and rhino populations are growing?

It helps that conservation is enshrined in the constitution. But it’s also down to people like John Kasaona, who grew up in remote northwestern Namibia where rhino and elephant escaped to after colonial hunters decimated their numbers.

His father poached game to feed the family. Today Kasaona is on the frontline of wildlife conservation.

“Conservation means nothing to a hungry person living outside a wildlife park,” the director of Namibia's Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservancies told NBC News.

The answer lies in giving rural communities a stake in wildlife tourism, and make it their “property,” he says.

Here’s the rub: The community gets to offer a small number of animals to hunters. This may be anathema to conservationists, but it ensures the survival of endangered animals and the betterment of the rural communities.

“Suddenly you have an army of volunteer neighborhood watchmen who will keep an eye on anything that moves in the area,” he said.

Lose a rhino or an elephant to poachers and you lose $2,000 in potential trophy money. Ninety percent of jobs in the conservancies go to the local community and the money generated by very selective hunting goes back into conservation, Kasaona says.

This sort of wildlife management is gaining traction, with Britain's Prince William throwing his weight behind the approach at an international wildlife conference in London on Thursday.

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