The Rhino we met at Wilderness

I am going to start this blog answering a question that I received from a friend of mine about the comment I made about the argument between conservationists and preservationists.  basically, it was "what's the difference between a preservationist and a conservationist?" 
In my mind the preservationist argument is completely unreasonable, they want to shut off huge tracts of land and let them become what they were.  
The conservationist view is that nature and man have to co-exist and that we need to find a way to manage the environment in a sustainable way, providing for a growing population and allowing the wild life to have as natural a life as possible.  
Wilderness Lodge:          One of the lodges we stayed at was the Waterberg Wilderness lodge where we stayed for 2 nights.  It's well up into the Waterberg Range, not quite on the plateau, about 200m or so below it.  When you drive up from the plains, along the track that winds through the scrub, pretty steep in places you start to wonder where you're headed.  Persevere as it's worth the journey.
When you take the final turn and you see where the lodge is situated, hard up against the rock wall, you get a hell of a surprise.  There are banana trees, coffee plants and a wide variety of "exotic" plants there.  Most of these are remnants of previous agricultural enterprises that have been attempted on the site of the current lodge.
It's an enjoyable lodge for 2 nights, I think that 3 would be a stretch as it's not a lodge with an abundance of wildlife.  The food is good as is the staff, the rooms are reasonably large, clean and have decent sized bathrooms.  As I mentioned in my last post, the "cultural bias" of the lodge was obvious here too.  The vast majority of the clients of this lodge were German, mostly families enjoying the summer break.  We met one guy who I am sure, given the opportunity would move there in a heartbeat, he spends every vacation that he can there, enjoying the opportunity to just get out and walk in the veldt.
 For me, the highlight was the Rhino.  Our first game drive was the afternoon we arrived there and about 30 minutes into it I was wondering what they were going to find to keep me entertained.  We had been driving a little over 30 minutes when the guide stopped the vehicle and jumped out, I asked him why he was stopping and he said so that we could get out and walk to the Rhino.   I have to tell you people, that I was using the other passengers as traction, I wanted out and near these beasties so bad!!!
We walked into the bush for about 250m and there they were, just strolling through the bush, we ended up about 15 metres from them, unfortunately it was pretty thick bush and the photos were rubbish.  Mind you, I was edging as close as I could, trying to position myself ahead of where they were headed so that I could get better shots.  Mrs Dadfap and I got scratched all over our legs and arms by the thorny acacia, we didn't even notice most of them in the excitement.  I snagged one of my ears on a thorn bush and didn't even notice it until I was back in the vehicle and wiped some blood off of my neck.  I could hardly wait until the next afternoon when we could have another crack at them.
Day two came along and as we had the afternoon game drive ahead of us, we decided to join the hike up to the escarpment.  It was a killer, especially for someone as unfit as me but again, it was something worth persevering and getting done.  When you are up there, it's breathtaking, the plateau is home to the only herd of buffalo outside of the Caprivi Strip, elsewhere in Namibia they are banned because of the diseases they spread to the domestic livestock.
The escarpment is also home to many of the antelope species that inhabit the plains below.  It also has some fig species that seem to grow from the smallest of cracks in the rock, sending their root system down the face of the rock to anchor the trees into what soil there is.  It would be an awesome place to overnight, watching the sunset on one side and the sunrise on the other side of the escarpment.
Back to the Rhino.  Knowing what to expect on the afternoon game drive, all I could think about was the Rhino and the opportunities we'd get to walk near and photograph them.  Because of the poaching that goes on and to make them easier to find, there's a security guy with the Rhino all day.  He starts with them at 6 in the morning, tracking them from where he left off the previous evening.  And yes, he really is as close as he looks in the photo to the left.
 Walking up to these two rhino is made all that much easier because the female required extensive veterinary attention when she was fairly young.  The male was introduced to keep her company and both have become "relatively" comfortable around people.  The second afternoon really was quite funny, we walked as close as we could to the rhino who were resting, they saw us coming and decided that it was time for them to get up.  Now, when they are lying down or when you are in a vehicle looking down at them, they don't seem so big.  Trust me, when you are on foot close to them, they look absolutely huge. As we walked towards them, they decided to start walking straight at us, what ensued was a pair of rhino mustering us like dumb sheep back from whence we came.  They quite literally herded us all back to the vehicle.  
I was more interested in getting decent shots and often had to be "encouraged" by the guide to beat a retreat.  To be honest, every time he suggested we move, I did, as anxious as I was to get decent shots, I sure as hell didn't want to become part of the topsoil as one of them ran me into the ground.  In all seriousness, it never even felt like it would get to that stage, the guides are very aware of what's going on, where their guests are and how to keep them moving so they don't spook the rhino.
 As I said, they herded us right back to the cars with many of the passengers taking refuge in them.  Staying as close to the  rhino as I could I took some shots, trying to stay as close as possible but not making our guide too nervous.  The rhino seemed to be having great fun, they wandered round the Landrover for a while, never really threatening or behaving in a threatening manner.  In the shot above, I am about 20 metres from the boy, who weighs in at around 3000Kg, he's not fully grown yet, he still has aboit another 500kg to go.
The shot above and to the right is the male starting towards us, I am not at the front on my own, our guide is standing just to my right, he's pretty calm at this point, just telling me to move slowly and not make too much noise.  The next shot is just before the guide and I moved back closer to the vehicles.  The guide let the rhino get to within about 15 meters of us before he decided that I had pushed my luck enough.  The amazing this is that the rhino was actually looking straight at us, I know that they don't have the greatest vision so I tried to move as casually as I could.  What really surprised me was that it wasn't till I took the camera away from my eye, I realised just how bloody close he was.  I heeded the advice of the guide and we slowly moved back to the vehicles.
The fun hadn't finished as yet.  We left the rhino in peace and went off for that most civilised of African traditions, the Sundowner!!!  really, really enjoyed these!!!  As we were driving back to the lodge, we encountered the rhino again, obviously still in a playful mood.  The male continued walking towards the vehicle, they normally move aside and into the bush as a vehicle approaches.  The guide stopped the vehicle, turned off the engine and waited for them to move off.  Instead, the male walked right up to the bull bar on the front of the Landrover, put his weight against it and gave a gentle shove.  The vehicle moved back a couple of centimetres and the boy thought that he had made his point, I am big enough to make a difference if I want to!!   This was only our second lodge and I was beginning to wonder already if this would be THE highlight of the trip.  
Rhino's are right up there in my mind with Wild Dogs as being the most engaging animals in the veldt, they also share the unfortunate status of being amongst the most vulnerable animals on the continent.  Wild Dogs are THE most endangered of the large carnivores, Rhino (some species of the White Rhino anyway) aren't as close to extinction as the Wild Dogs, but judging by the reports in the following article, they won't be far behind.
There are plenty of societies and organisations you can join in an effort to battle this callous and bloody murdering of wildlife, one is on my Blogroll on the right.
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