Unfortunately, with the current poaching epidemic, we can’t delve into too much detail regarding this magnificent sighting of two ‘Bhejane’ (pronounced ‘Bhe-jaan’), the Zulu name for this irascible critter. Suffice to say it was one of guide Leon’s best sightings ever, and certainly unexpected in the exact area it occurred. And of course, sadly, it was made all the more special when considering the plight of these creatures at the moment – current figures are roughly one killed every 8 hours somewhere in South Africa, all for the ‘traditional medicine’ trade in Asia, China and Vietnam specifically. Chilling stuff, and with this information creating a somewhat sombre mood for the clients at the time, despite the magnitude of the encounter, we pushed on to see what else the morning would bring us… Maybe see what you can do to help stop this slaughter.
On a recent safari in northern KwaZulu-Natal, the conditions were extremely hot and dry. In fact, the region hadn’t had any significant rain for at least two months, which is not unusual in the dry season, but can spell disaster in the wet season, when it’s supposed to rain. As bad as this was for animals and people alike, it made for terrific game viewing. Due to the poaching threat I’d rather not mention the specific location here, but at a particular hide we spent a morning having some of the most thrilling game viewing I’ve had in a long time. The hide is sited over a small pool of water, and when its dry, such as it was at the time of our visit, it attracts game from all over the surrounding area. Without cease there was a constant procession of different game species streaming in from all directions, some in herds and groups, others as individuals or loners. The species seen included Zebra, Blue Wildebeest, Warthog, Impala and Nyala, with at least six White Rhinos hanging around in the immediate vicinity. For hours they coming and going went on, only interrupted by a big male Lion crashing the party (in the space of a minute the waterhole was suddenly but temporarily deserted). One of the highlights was this Rhino cow leading her calf to the water, with the dried red mud on their flanks making for a nice colour contrast. All in all a superb morning and we were lucky as a cold front arrived that afternoon and there was rain overnight. Visitors to the hide on the following day probably never saw a single animal…
Rhinos are in trouble right now. We need to take action to try to stop, or at least slow down, the poaching. If we don’t, we may only see them in a few secure zoos in 10 year’s time. We all need to get involved, and for me, signing petitions is not good enough. I’ve started a campaign on the Indiegogo crowd-funding website to raise money to sponsor the tracking dogs of the Specialised Tactical Tracking Unit, a group of volunteers who help the South African Police track down poachers. It’s a small way to help, but if we all help in small ways we can achieve big things. Please have a look at my campaign, donate if you can, and share it! Here’s the link:
Known as Bhejane (‘beh-jaan’) in Zulu, the Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis) is a fearsome beast. Weighing up to 1100 kilograms, the highly endangered Black Rhino epitomizes the ‘dynamite comes in small packages’ saying. Well, it’s a small package in relative terms, as it’s far smaller than its cousin, the White Rhino, which can weigh in at nearly 2 500 kilograms, but whereas the White can be a timid creature, the Black Rhino is feisty, treating any unidentified sound, smell or object as a potential threat. If you’re on a walking safari and you come across a White Rhino, the snap of a twig or a change in the direction of the breeze will probably be enough to scare it off, while in the case of a Black Rhino it will probably be enough to elicit an investigative charge at the very least. But let me not make it sound as if it’s a malicious or otherwise unappealing creature. Far from it, in fact. The Bhejane is an awesome animal – pugnacious, intense and unpredictable. It’s an animal that can give you the shivers just by looking at you. And when it does look at you, or stare through you rather, it seems as if it’s just debating whether to come at you like a freight train or perhaps leave you be, for the moment anyway. This encounter was the highlight of a recent trip to a game reserve in South Africa (when it comes to Rhino, exact locations are best left unmentioned). I spotted it off to the left of the road under a tree about 20 – 30 meters in. I switched off and, because the tall grass restricted visibility, the Rhino knew we were there but was not sure exactly where we were or what we were. Approaching for a closer look, he came out onto the road and decided to give us a bit of a rev (guide parlance for a mock charge), coming huffing and puffing (Rhinos snort loudly when angry) towards us at a run before turning away at the last moment and heading across the road and into the bush, sending his two companion species (the Red-billed Oxpeckers and a massive swarm of big flies) off in alarm. I only had a chance to get this one shot before I put the camera down to concentrate on the tactical situation (in other words to brace for impact). The experience was thrilling, and only brought it home harder how bad the current situation is with regards to the slaughter of Rhinos for their horns. In China and Vietnam they believe that the keratin compound that makes up a Rhino’s horn has medicinal qualities, and they’ll pay huge money for it. With the growing wealth of the people in these nations Rhino poaching has spiked, with something like 668 Rhinos poached in South Africa during 2012. And 2013 is off to a bad start as well. So what can you do about it? Even though creating awareness seems to be a feeble effort, it all helps, and with Social Media there has never been an easier manner in which to do so. Funding is also vital, and that’s probably the best way that the layperson can help. Check out reputable fund raising efforts through solid agencies such as the World Wildlife Fund, Endangered Wildlife Trust and ACT. And if you are of Asian origin, or have Chinese / Vietnamese friends, get them involved. The only way to save Rhinos, Tigers and other endangered species may be to get rid of the beliefs that these things have any medicinal value. If young people can grow up valuing animals for their intrinsic value and the value they bring through eco-tourism, rather than the value of their body parts, then we might have a chance of winning this war.