In mid-February, as the coronavirus crisis gained momentum, a Canadian gold mining company made an unusual announcement. B2Gold said it donated 1,000 ounces of gold to save what is known as an "endangered global treasure": the black rhinoceros in Namibia, South Africa.
It was a noticeable move in the world of philanthropy. It would also be a wise investment for those who supported it. The gold was valued at nearly $ 1.5 million at the time of B2Gold's announcement and was converted into 1,000 bars of various sizes, each marked with a black rhino mother and a calf. The idea was to sell each bar at the prevailing market price plus a 15 percent “maintenance premium”. Proceeds would be invested in long-term, sustainable conservation funding as well as community-sponsored efforts to protect the black rhinoceros from the relentless threat of poachers who slaughter it for its horns – a commodity that, in some cases, is worth more than gold in Asian countries which it is mistakenly touted as a treatment for hangovers and even cancer.
A black rhino with mother and calf © Dave Hamman / SRT
Experts estimate that as recently as the 1960s there were more than 100,000 black rhinos in Africa, and although their numbers have increased from a low point in the 1990s, fewer than 5,700 are believed to be living in the wild. In northwestern Namibia, the creatures roam over a long stretch of remote land with few roads that are difficult for rangers to patrol.
Covid-19 has highlighted the need to reconsider funding for conservation. "
The gold bars came from B2Gold's Namibia mine and the campaign to sell them started with a bang. Ten half-kilo bars were sold within a few days at two kick-off events, one in Namibia's capital Windhoek and one at a major mining conference in Cape Town, South Africa.
"It was massive," said Ginger Mauney, the US-born, Windhoek-based wildlife filmmaker and conservationist who came up with the idea of a gold bar. Mauney is a board member of Save the Rhino Trust Namibia, which B2Gold has been supporting with cash grants for several years. When the company invited her to visit its Vancouver headquarters in late 2018, she considered how she could expand this support "in a way that makes sense for her as a company."
During lunch with Clive Johnson, CEO of B2Gold, Mauney says she suddenly had an idea. “I just looked at Clive and said, 'You have gold. Why don't we sell gold bars in a way that creates long-term sustainable means of protecting rhinos? 'He looked at me and said,' Well, yes, I think we can look into this. “The project started a little over a year later when gold was trading at around $ 1,500 an ounce. That made the first gold bullion sales a good investment. But as the coronavirus crisis deepened, investors rushed to the safety of gold. The price rose to $ 2,000 an ounce for the first time in August. Even with the maintenance premium of 15 percent, every buyer who sold would have made a decent profit.
One of B2Gold's bars made of "rhino gold"
But the early sales were also on time. They came as the pandemic began to destroy wildlife tourism, a major source of income in Namibia and an important factor in the protection of rhinos. The physical presence of tourists makes it difficult for poachers to operate. Tourism revenues also help fund rangers and other wildlife conservation measures. At the same time, the budgets of nature conservation associations in Namibia were cut by up to 30 percent, as international donors passed on their own funding cuts.
When the bullion began to flow, it was used to fill in the gaps. Ranger salaries were paid to keep people in the field. A vehicle was bought to track down poachers. Within four months of launch, $ 3.5 million or more than $ 200,000 was paid out.
This shows the importance of finding new ways to fund wildlife conservation, says Richard Diggle, community protection management consultant at WWF in Namibia. "Covid-19 has highlighted the need to reconsider funding for conservation," he says. “We cannot always rely on conventional donor cycles and tourism. We need to be more innovative and here is a fantastic example. "
B2Gold sold 600 gold bars in Africa and has now expanded its campaign to North America, where Clive Johnson of B2Gold was confident that the remaining 400 gold bars would sell well despite the higher gold price. People are ready to pay a premium to save an animal that has been around the planet for 50 million years, he said. "And we are using some gold that was deposited 6 billion years ago by an exploding star that landed in Namibia.
"I like the historical context of using something as natural and old as gold to save an ancient animal."
Pilita Clark is an FT columnist