Namibia: Rhino in the bushes of Namibia.Photos by Margie GoldsmithTracking Rhinos in African Time
I bounce along the rocky track beneath the cloudless cerulean sky with my guide,Raymond, looking for a rhinoceros in Damaraland, Namibia. This area hasthe largest population of African free-roaming desert-adapted black rhino, and is the reason I’ve come here.
My fascination with rhinos goes back to high school when I read Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, a play about the absurdity of human nature. A few years later, I stood in front of Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut of a rhinoceros at the British Museum, hypnotized by the prehistoric-looking animal withits two large horns and armor-like hide.
We are following the trackers from Save the Rhino Trust who, if they spot a rhino, will record its size, horns, ear notches and tail shape. Raymond haswarned me that this is not a zoo and the rhinos are not wearing transmitter collars, so there’s no guarantee we’ll see one; but if we do,the trackers will signal for us to get out of our vehicle as quietly as possible, walk single file to where they direct us, and remain perfectly still.
Always on the lookout, I scanthe surrounding ocher-colored mountains and golden hills dotted with acacias and low shrubs, hoping one will materialize before me. A steenbok, one of the smaller antelopes, prongs before us jumping almost eight feet into the air on every step. “He’s showing off,” Raymond laughs.
Skittish as a Steenbok
Eventually, we pass a herd of steenbok that prong away from us. “Is a rhinosas skittish as a steenbok?” I ask.
“Rhinos are highly strung,” says Raymond.“The minute we enter into his territory he’ll be alert, so we must be very careful and do exactly what the Save the Rhino trackers tell us to do.”
In the early 1980s, the rhino had been so savagely slaughtered that it was nearly extinct. One morning, a South African botanist, Blythe Loutit, was driving along the road of what was then called Southwest Africa (now Namibia) and saw poached dead rhino carcasses. She was so upset that she established the Save the Rhino Trust in 1982. To find trackers, she went to the jails where the local poachers were incarcerated and persuaded them that there would be a much better benefit if they would conserve the rhino rather than kill it.
Casenove+loyd the bespoke travel company who set up my trip warned me I wasn’t guaranteed to see rhino, but said that because the rhino are tracked, I have the best chances of finding them here. I’m beginning to wonder.For the last thirty years, former local poachers have become conservationists and since the 1980s, the numbers of rhino have greatly increased. The trackersin the vehicle ahead of us know 17 rhinos by name in this concession. But where are they all, I wonder. Two hours have already passed.
Three Oryx, their horns nearly as long as boom handles, run in the distance, stop to look at us, and then run away again. They continue to run, then stop and watch us, then run again. Finally, they disappear down an embankment. An Ostriches pair is pecking at the ground, the female bigger than the male.
Another hourpasses. “I don’t think we’re going to see one,” I say.
“This is Africa,” Raymond says, “Things take time. And besides,a rhino lives 40 to 45 years, so three hours is nothing.”
Suddenly the trackers stopand signal for us get out of car. We walksilently until they tell us to sit down. Raymond is looking through his binoculars at something about 100 yards away. “You see the rhino?” he whispers.
I squint, then say, “I only see a rock.”
“No, it’s a rhino.Look again. One o’clock.”
Now I seeit: a gigantic four-legged animal with large hooved feet, slitty little eyes and two curved horns.I feel like a little kid and want to jump up and down. Is this real?One of the trackers whispers that thisis a young bull, probably 7-8 years old andweighs about 1,800 pounds.I watch hypnotized for at least fifteen minutes asthe rhino chews on theRhino trackers resting in the Namibian savana. bushes, unaware of us.Finally,it lies down to sleep,hidden by the tall grass. I’ve seen my rhino!
When we pull up to a shade canopy of acacia trees for lunch, thetrackers tell me how lucky I am to have seen this rhino. They show me their data book where they have recordedthe shape, size, horns, ear notches and tail size of the 17 rhinos in the concession. Each has a name. But none of the trackers have ever seen this rhino before who must have wondered in from another concession. They record his data in the book.
We head back towards camp. I am dozing off when we stop abruptly.The trackershave found a second rhino, 40-year-old Verity,who has mothered eight calves. “This is a rare occurrence,” Raymond whispers. “We don’t often see two different rhinos in one day.”
It’s a good three hour drive before we’ll arrive back in camp, but I no longer care. I breathe in the aroma of wild sage. I’m on African time.
Margie Goldsmith has hiked, biked, climbed, Deepelled, ZORBed, paddled, coasteered, test-driven $200,000-cars, done marathons and triathlons, and has luxuriated on seven continents and 120 countries and written about them all. She is a contributing writer to Elite Traveler, Robb Report, Black Card Mag, Business Jet Traveler, Affluent Traveler,travelandleisure.com, huffingtonpost.com, and others. She just won the 2012 Gold Lowell Thomas SATW Award. Visit her website, mgproductions.com
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