Thursday, 4 October 2012

A Nkombe Experience

 By Hanroe Taljaard


It was the start of the third and final trails trip for the year. We knew from the first week on ZRR we were in for a wet one, but never- the- less a unique experience. We watched as rains poured, rivers flooded, followed by the sun and some very hot days as the bush became alive around us. We had excellent sightings during this trails, logging well over 70 dangerous game encounters and some, now well embedded, memories and experiences.

On walking one of the properties close by our main camp on Amazulu, we had some great sightings the one day, to me a day that is the essence of walking trails and getting the opportunity to become part of the nature around you. The terrain was not easy and we covered well over 25km of walking in order to log the, well deserved, 7 sightings for the day. We reached the lodge after walking most of the morning and had a chance to refill our water bottles, as temperatures soared well over 35 degrees. We left the lodge and headed south and after a few kilometers we spotted, far up in the distance, some white rhino feeding on some burnt patches. After tracking buffalo most of the morning, up some very steep mountainsides, this sight was well welcomed.

As you’ll see in the video, we were walking up on the road leading to the area where we spotted the rhino. You could hear the loud thuds of her feet hitting the ground as she suddenly came into view, running down the road we were on. We quickly moved off the road, to our right, and stood dead still. The mother and calf came to a stop about 55m from us. We think the reason for them running down the road, is that one of the bulls we saw up in the same area might have disturbed them and she ran down the road. She was unaware of our presence as the wind was well in our favor. She stopped briefly and moved around the other side of the road as we watched. After making a small loop she came back onto the road as the wind started swirling about. She became aware of a presence and moved in slowly to investigate. She came in to about 25m of us, as we stood motionless. Both her ears pointed at our direction as she sniffed around in the air. It was a few moments of ‘benoude boude,’ but amazing to see this beautiful animal up close and on their level. As soon as she sniffed and became aware of us, you can see how she turns side profile, shielding her calf from us. With a few snorts and grants, she sped off in the opposite direction. 

We continued up the road when they had cleared the area and moved up towards where we had spotted the others. We managed to get a nice sighting of a female and two sub- adults feeding. We viewed them and extracted without disturbing the animals, which is always a successful sighting. Heading up further towards the fence line the female and calf from earlier came out the bush ahead of us. Wind was in our favour and they were unaware of our presence.

We looked on as the calf was in a very playful mood. Running in circles around the mother while vocalizing squeaky grunts. This was awesome to see and was animal behavior at its best. The calf made a few turns by the mother and then started trotting down in our direction. We moved slightly to our left to stay behind a small barrier between them and us; a barrier that a rhino of her size, will make light work of! The calf came to about 40m from us when it suddenly became aware of our presence. You could actually see the shock on the little ones face as it realized we were there. The mother was there in no time, super alert and looking around. The calf made such quick dash back to mom, it tripped slightly over a bush, quickly picked itself up and got behind her large mother. We stood dead still and observed as the female sniffed the air to investigate. I think at this time everyone had pretty much decided on his tree of choice. She looked at us, for what felt like hours, then turned and ran off, calf close by. They went some distance and stopped, as the mother scanned the area intently.

There was so much to learn from the behavior we had witnessed by this female white rhino and her calf on this day. A lot was taken from it. It has happened often that these calves will run into a trails group without knowing that they were there, and can obviously turn into something very serious when the mother feels you threatening her or her calf. Through just standing our ground and remaining motionless she moved off, not sure what to make of the situation. We felt privileged to have been allowed to view these Rhino in their everyday life. It’s just beyond me to think that people will ruthlessly murder these magnificent animals to satisfy their own greed and in the light of all the latest rhino poaching, it was a privilege to be able to be part of their daily, undisturbed, lives for just a few minutes.

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