Sunday, February 19, 2012

Rhinos. Not small, just far away

"I'm not being funny, but there's a pair of black rhino over there" said our guide as we sat atop a hilltop in the Kruger National Park, South Africa. To understand the significance of this statement we need to take a moment to set the scene.....

This was our last day in the park and thus far we had yet to see a black rhino. White rhinos we had seen in frankly decadent abundance. I was optimistic about seeing white rhino but had heard terrible stories about the level of poaching of rhino in the Kruger. There is little that can be done to stop people who want to hide and poach rare animals in an area the size of Wales and the rhino were suffering. We had insane luck. 39 white rhino sightings in a week. Rhino crossing roads in front of us. Rhinos walking alongside the jeep. Rhinos, rhinos, rhinos. It was magnificient......but as yet no Black Rhino. Black or hook-lipped rhinos are much rarer than southern white rhino and I desperately wanted to see one.....and then on a night drive the previous evening I did see one. A rhino backside crashing into the dark forest. The National Parks' employee who ran that tour said it was a hippo but he wasn't the jedi sat alongside me on the hilltop* and we knew better. Another passenger described details that said black rhino not white but I didn't see those and the beast was gone into the trees. We would never know and reluctantly I gave it up as one that got away.

But now I was looking again at a black rhino. About a  mile away a mother and calf were chillaxing under a lone acacia.

black rhino

Mum is sleeping (or at least lying down), her offspring is ambling around. This is uncropped with a 500mm lens. A crop shows a little more detail.

 blackrhino1 crop

I squinted at mum and baby for 10 minutes enjoying probably my longest range wildlife experience ever. Of course if we lose rhinos, black or white a mile will seem like nothing.

* Our own independent guide who was excellent explained later how easy it is to differentiate the two species by their tails alone if you know what you are looking for. Unfortunately the only night drives allowed in the Kruger are those run by the NP board. I found the standard of their guides universally disappointing across 3 different night drives.

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