“The red earth, it’s in our skin. The Shona say the colour comes from all the blood spilled fighting over the land. This is home. You’ll never leave Africa.”
Once Africa is in your blood it never leaves. This week has been filled with more amazing memories, ranging from the wild dog puppies, lions mating and a whole host of other beautiful sightings. It is quite fitting that I publish this on World Rhino day because the most special moment of the week came in between game drives and what a privilege it was. It wasn’t until I got back to the lodge that it started to sink in how lucky I am to be on this magnificent continent:
The heat was stifling, even in the shade the temperature was a cool forty degree centigrade. The flies swarmed my face, looking for any moisture that may be available in this desert. I lay belly down in the deep red African soil, the paper thorns cut into my legs where my khaki shorts did not reach. This may sound like hell, but for me this was heaven. A mere forty metres in front of me stood the most prehistoric animal of the bushveld. The rhino. He could hear me as I shuffled, he could hear the click of the camera but the important part was that he could not smell me. I heard a branch breaking behind him. His ears swiveled yet his eyes were fixed in my direction. I held my breath, through the thick bush I could make out a number of elephants heading our way. Thankfully the wind hadn’t given away my presence to them so they strolled past, very excited at the water that called to them in the pan that lay to the northern side of where I lay.
With the splashing of the elephants creating enough noise to distract the rhino, I edged closer. Squatting, I slowly made my way behind the next thicket, being as quiet as possible. Unfortunately, walking through dry twigs and branches silently is not the easiest of things to do. The ox-peckers trilled, alerting the rhino to my presence again, he exhaled creating a puff of dust to erupt from beneath his nose. I lay silently. Twenty metres. Still he looked in my direction, but a rhino’s eyesight is pretty dreadful so although he knew I was there, he couldn’t detect what I was. I lay for a long time, enjoying the serenity of what I was doing. Nature enveloped me, it didn’t feel real. I army crawled through the dirt, the red sand clinging to my clothes, inching my way closer towards a two tonne rhino bull. Ten metres. Still the elephants splashed, still the sun beat down, still the ox-peckers trilled. Still I stayed. He edged closer, one footstep, then two. I was looking up at this gorgeous beast in awe. Who else gets to spend their weekday lying face down in the dirt in the direct company of a white rhino?
Some zebras flashed by, also on their way to the waterhole but they hesitated at the presence of the elephants: there is only one ruler in these lands. The rhino was completely relaxed, alert but relaxed, his ears swiveled to the changing sounds of the bush and after my heart was fulfilled with content I made my leave. Slowly getting up and backing off in a crouched position. As I backed off he ambled forward towards me, obviosuly curious at what he could detect with eyes and ears but not his nose. I carried on making my way backwards out of the area, leaving the prehistoric tank in the shade of a marula tree.
I returned back to camp and it wasn’t until then that it had sunk in. When we are in that world you switch off, it is a feeling like no other and it is extremely hard to put into words. It is a world of tranquility, raw beauty and danger. Of course it gets the adrenaline pumping and the heart racing but it is the most soothing thing to do. What made this even more special was the animal I shared my time with, rhino protection is becoming increasingly important and although the stats released this week show that less rhinos were killed this year, one must ask as to why. There is an increase in poaching incursions into Kruger showing that the potential reward far outweighs the risk and with less individual rhinos to actually poach, it is not surprising that less rhinos have been killed. For me, it is always a sobering experience to spend time with such a magnificent animal.