In search of rhino
The magic of the bush comes alive on foot. We discovered this only the day before as our group made our way quietly to a shady spot where we sat admiring two cheetahs – their blood stained mouths devouring as much as they could of an impala ram they’d just taken down.
The kill was fresh; our guide guessed that it had happened about an hour before we had arrived on the scene. There we were, six metres away from one of our most elegant cats and we had the show all to ourselves – no payment required. I had a big smile on my face because I knew we were one of the lucky ones to see such a sight on foot.
Our goal for today was to try and find rhino. We knew that this would be no easy task. Our guide had told us that the bush is full of surprises: “You can’t put nature in a box,” he said. I liked that. It was much more exciting not knowing what we would come across, but even if we didn’t see anything, the bush would leave signs and signals for us to interpret.
We were up at 5.30 am to make the most of the day. A drive around the game reserve was at first fruitless, we seemed to be seeing everything except what we were looking for. The first sighting was of two tawny eagles sitting in a marula tree scanning the veld. We knew that their presence must mean something, so we decided to hang around. A tiny steenbok caught our eye not far off and we tried to work out the scenario. Was there a kill? Had a predator got hold of the antelope’s mom? The answer did not materialise so we continued on our way.
At last, we found the footprint of a white rhino beautifully etched in the mud. The footprints gave us hope; we were now getting closer. Our guide brought out an identification kit to make a mould of the print, this would tell us a lot more about the rhino (we learnt that each rhino has its own unique footprint). He sprayed the area with Spray and Cook to avoid sticking and then added water and the plaster of paris mixture. We would come back later to collect the mould once it had set...
On foot again, we kept our eyes focused on anything that would show us signs of rhinos. Walking along we approached a dam and watched from the bank as hippos eyed us out, splashing and grunting in the water, clearly curious to know what we were up to. On the opposite side of the bank, a large crocodile lay lifeless, sunning itself, until it too decided to take to the water. The sun was by now starting to throw late afternoon shadows around us and we had little hope that we’d find any rhino.
We made our way back to our open Land Rover and I jumped onto the tracker's seat (a seat that offers a great vantage point for sighting animals, high up on the vehicle’s bonnet). I didn’t know then that I had chosen the perfect time to take advantage of this seat. How could I know that just around the corner, after eight hours of searching for rhino, that we’d happen upon four magnificent beauties?
Four white rhino walked in front of our game vehicle showing us their armoured hides. There were two females and two males and we watched as they made their way to the dam where we had earlier seen the hippo and crocodiles. They lowered their heads to have a drink but this was soon disrupted by an angry male hippo. The dominant male ploughed its way through the water close to where the rhinos were drinking and made it clear that he was not happy with them drinking from his dam! The rhinos bravely took another drink and then trotted off – they were not prepared to put up a fight against a large pod of angry hippo.
The reason for our bush trip was to learn more about rhinos under the guidance of EcoTraining (pioneers and leaders in field guide and nature training). Together with South African Tourism they hosted our group and gave us fantastic insights into these majestic creatures that are unfortunately battling for the right to live. If only poachers could see through my eyes. Perhaps then they would see the power and beauty of these gentle and age-old animals, powerful creatures that are unfortunately so powerless against the greed of humankind.
* The name of the reserve has been omitted to protect the safety of these rhino.
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