Black rhino are incredibly elusive and difficult to find, especially as they generally prefer thick brush, and their numbers are dwindling rapidly from the scourge of poaching. So when I was offered the chance to go out and track black rhino on foot
, I jumped at the opportunity. I was staying at the wonderfully colonial White Elephant Safari Lodge
in KZN's Pongola Game Reserve, which has a black rhino breeding project
, amongst many other conservation initiatives.
Bright and early, we emerged from our luxurious safari tents filled with nervous excitement, and after the necessary coffee and rusks we bundled into the game vehicle clutching hot water bottles and blankets to ward off the winter chill. Stopping at the highest spots in the reserve, Brett used a telemetry device (looks rather like a TV aerial) to pinpoint the general location of the rhino. We could hear the beeps becoming clearer from a certain direction, and with telltale tracks in the road we eventually spotted a single black rhino on the horizon, who immediately charged off into the brush.
Warily we climbed down from the vehicle, and in the utmost silence and feeling confident in our guides Brett and Mitchell, we set off on foot, keeping a watchful eye out while trying to make as little noise as possible, watching every footfall so that you couldn't hear a twig break. A herd of impala watched balefully as we passed by, and we prayed they wouldn't give us away. But as it turned out, it was the oxpeckers who betrayed us, taking off up into the sky, and suddenly we were face to face with this magnificent horned beast, just 50 metres away. We instantly followed Brett's lead and crouched below some brush, thighs straining and hearts pumping, patiently waiting for him to settle before we retreated to a better position.
We spent at least 10 minutes observing this magnificent creature. They have a notorious reputation for being fierce and aggressive, which is often a misnomer. Nevertheless it made for a certain amount of healthy fear and was an absolutely thrilling encounter!
Opportunities to view endangered wildlife on foot in their natural habitat are just so rewarding, and I have even more respect for the lengths these guides and conservationists go to, to protect and rehabilitate endangered species.