I woke in my tent at @siyafundawildlife at 1am yesterday morning and already in my mind was that I had left my boots outside and would a hyena come along and drag them off into the bush for a good chew. So I got up, walked across the camp to collect them and happy to find them still there.
Climbing back into my sleeping bag I know felt awake and like we so often do nowadays checked my phone. Before I knew it I had clicked on YouTube, which I only watch occasionally, and one of the first “suggestions” was the live cam from Okaukujo. I clicked and was amazed to see two black rhino at the waterhole. Initially they were apart but it wasn’t long until one of them walked around the edge to confront the other. A stand off ensued that ended without any contact after a few minutes. Although I was far away and only watching through a live feed, it was a connected experience and I could only marvel at the way in which these large aggressive animals challenge one another and decide on dominance mostly without any actual fighting and the ensuing injury. I then put my phone away and shortly thereafter fell asleep.
Now I’ve come very very close to seeing a black rhino on foot on a few occasions in the past 6 months, hearing them stamp their feet and scrape past nearby bushes without actually laying eyes on them. They are very deceptive and can seemingly vanish, tracks and all. But they can also he very very aggressive and if they sense you, may well come in for a closer look, often looping being and surprising you. I speak not from personal experience here, but from my mentors who are guiding me through the process of becoming a trails guide.
Anyway, let’s progress to yesterday morning’s walk whereas we set out we detected black rhino tracks on the road we had started walking down. With an open road ahead and no other signs we continued, perhaps a little too casually as my mentor later pointed out.
But then the loud shrill of the oxpecker stopped us dead in our tracks. To be honest I took a few extra steps as my brain started to peace this together. The rhino was close, very close.
To the untrained eye and ear we were not in danger, but my mentor’s face and body language told a different story altogether.
The next sounds then came, and fortunately they were not the sounds of the black rhino hurtling through the bush in our direction. Far more subtle foot stomps and scapes. But confirmation that they were there, we could easily imagine the rhino flicking ears listening out for our footsteps and whisperings along the road. Now I knew this was no time to hang around, but equally keen to get a glimpse, I proceeded steadily down the road with the second rifle now positioned at the back of the group to cover the possibility of the rhino coming from a different angle. Then there they were, just a glimpse through a gap in the bushes of not one but two black rhino. A quick glimpse for each guests as the filed by, and then relief as we moved away to a safe distance.
In the debrief it was told to us that it was a known mother and calf, and that a male rhino would have almost definitely not tolerated us being that close.
My mind flicked back to 1.30am that morning when I had watched the two males size one another up, relieved that wasn’t us that morning. But it still had the feeling of a premonition. My first black rhino on foot. All had ended well even though I had not done everything to the book. The exact shrill sound of that oxpecker rang in my ears for the rest of the day. Next time I imagine I will stop immediately, and react as if it’s a grumpy male black rhino that’s not so chuffed about our presence.
We are always learning in every walk of life. Knowing when to up the ante and react appropriately can be down to being sensitive to the smallest sign, being situationally aware so to speak.
But WOW I love this journey and its teachings.