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Close encounters of the thick-skinned kind

18/04/2010

Following black rhino on foot in Damaraland is an adventure as far removed from a trip to a shopping mall as Pluto is from earth! Sure, we are aware of and accept the danger of potential pickpockets, muggers and even bomb scares as a price to pay for big city life, but nothing prepares us urbanites for the silence of wide open spaces devoid of fluted mall music, jostling crowds and (yes, let’s admit it, the comforting!) presence of security guards that sometimes lull us into a false sense of security.

In this harsh terrain, with its red basalt boulders, rugged ravines and unfenced wildernesses we are taken right out of our comfort zone. What counts here is the way the wind blows, a chip on a rock, the nick in a stalk of grass, the freshness of dung and the tracking expertise of Filemon, game guard par excellence armed with nothing but a stick! And SILENCE! Black rhinos have notoriously bad eyesight but there is definitely nothing wrong with their hearing!!

The rush of adrenalin fuelled by anticipation of what may lie just around the next corner resembles the freefall of a tandem skydiving jump! With the stealthy approach towards these pre-historic looking beasts, the ego shrinks with the ever-increasing realisation that to the creatures that live here, man is nothing but a curiosity at best.

To hear the snort of an inquisitive rhino teenager filled with enough chutzpah to swagger just to the far side of a euphorbia bush and then lose his nerve and charge back to mother over thundering boulder fields, is enough to stop even the most intrepid voyeur dead in his tracks! To then witness the ruckus of mama and son play-fighting only metres away is enough to unleash dormant fight or flight instincts (the latter being the operative word!), long buried under layers of civilisation.

Thanks to experts like Filemon and KCS CEO and conservationist, Russell Vinjevold, we were privileged to enjoy not one, but six individual sightings of these magnificent odd-toed ungulates at close range, without compromising either their or our safety.  Truly an awesome experience! And as if that is not enough, the close range discovery of two spotted eagle owls come out of hiding for an impromptu photo shoot just put the cherry on the top!

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