I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to track a white rhino on foot. I had quite a few misgivings about the whole exercise given the number of predators on this game reserve. While tracking, we would not only need to be aware of any impact our presence could have on the three juveniles, but also have our eyes peeled for any other animals with malicious intent! Given that that morning I had actually stroked the skin of a fully grown wild rhino male (that had been tranquilised, of course), I was growing slightly more confident about the idea of being near these animals. Lets face it, the endangered rhino is an amazing beast – probably the closest things to dinosaurs left on the planet – but they are strong and can be a bit grumpy.
Our driver and game warden, Ryan, was pretty sure the conditions were perfect for tracking. I have only just returned from the Kwandwe Private Game Reserve and was able to experience a whole host of animals and birds native to the Eastern Cape of South Africa. On day two, we had spotted elephant, giraffe, zebra (which I had seen on a previous safari) but also some smaller animals like a gorgeous Caracal (small cat with lovely tufts of black on its ears). I wish I had snapped a picture of this beautiful animal but it moved away too quickly. The pic (below) is from Just-Wait-Now BlogSpot.
We spotted the three juvenile rhinos feeding together in a thicket filled field off the road on our way to have sun-downers. It was decided that, if we could come up from behind them and use bushes for cover, our presence might go undetected. We drove west for several metres; this would position us to have the setting sun at our backs. With the westerly wind carrying our scent in the opposite direction of the rhinos and with the sun in their eyes, they hopefully, wouldn’t smell or see us. If they did detect us, I am not sure how quickly we would be able to get back to the land rover. I trusted that, if we followed Ryan’s directions, we shouldn’t be in any significant danger. (Gulp!)
As we dismounted from the jeep, we were given strict instructions not to talk. We were to follow behind Ryan in close single file and to watch carefully for his instructions. This was like a military exercise! Without the relaxation of casual conversation, it was amazing how tense I felt within a few moments. There wouldn’t really be the opportunity to take photos as camera shutters make noise which the rhinos might hear. Plus having a camera in front of my face would distract my attention from what was going on around me. Not a good idea.
Very slowly, very quietly, we made our way over the dry earth, avoiding stepping on noisy sticks or tripping on stones. Every few feet we would scoot behind bushes and foliage, re-access the wind direction and our position in relation to our ‘prey’. Slowly but surely we got closer and then finally spotted one of the rhino about 100 metres away. He seemed oblivious to our presence. It was quite exciting. As we got closer, we could see more than one animal but it was pretty difficult to make out anything other than general shapes. They were deep in the thicket and busy munching their dinner. After a few minutes, it was time to make our way back.
We returned in silence, our hearts still in our throats from excitement. We would soon be off to have a fizzy drink as we watched the setting sun and talk about our adventure. What a magnificent way to spend the end of the day on the reserve!