Tracking the temperamental black rhino has to be one of the most exciting and challenging activities for a field guide. Black rhino are notoriously aggressive, and will not hesitate to charge, even when one is in the confines of a vehicle. Singita Pamushana Lodge is home to a healthy population of these animals, which offered me a fantastic opportunity to learn more about them.
Our mission was to locate the fresh spoor of a black rhino and continue to follow the tracks until we finally located the animal. In order to optimise our chances of seeing one, we decided to set off early in the morning when the day is still cool and rhinos are the most active.
They mainly drink at night or early in the morning, so the logical place to start was at one of the larger pans. It was a challenging task, as we had to select one particular track that seemed the most promising. It had to be the freshest track and not only would we have to distinguish this spoor from the hundreds of others surrounding the waterhole, but we would also have to make sure we continued trailing the same one. After circling the pan a number of times we selected the tracks of a single bull and set off with our noses to the ground.
We were headed south, straight into the thick Mopane forest. I noted the fresh dung as well as the broken branches the rhino had left as clues. As we went deeper into the scrub, I felt my heart rate quicken and my ears and eyes sharpen, all the while considering the black rhino’s fearsome reputation.
The startled oxpeckers alerted us to the proximity of our quarry when they took to the air as we approached, pricking the ears of the large figures below them in the undergrowth. We kept silent and still, wary of giving away our position. Suddenly the wind changed against us and the rhino caught our scent, lumbering straight for our hiding place. The best response when being charged by a rhino is to find a tree to climb or hide behind (since rhino have bad eyesight, they usually can’t distinguish between a large tree trunk and the perceived threat of a person). We promptly found a thicket to hide behind, hearts pounding, and quietly watched the rhino retreat into the shadows of the forest, feeling great respect for these massive but agile beasts.
James Suter is an experienced Singita field guide with a passion for photography. Check back regularly for more of James’ stories from Singita’s private reserves in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Tanzania.
Jenny Hishin – Singita Guide – shares some of her experiences from Singita Pamushana Lodge.
I’ve mentioned that we’ve been having some hair-raisingly close encounters with a black rhino (Diceros bicornis) around the area of the Malilangwe Dam, at the foot of the lodge. The story began in June when staff members awoke to the colossal sounds of huffing, puffing, bashing and crashing.
Two male black rhinos were engaged in a mighty battle over what seemed to be a territorial dispute. One of the bulls was injured but our scouts managed to keep track of him and determine the extent of his injuries – thankfully he recovered well.
The battle aside, this aggression over territory is an encouraging sign for us because it has been observed that rhinos in low density populations become more territorial and less tolerant of intruders as their population density increases.
Rhinos use dung and urine to stake out the areas of their rule, and their middens act as important communication posts to other rhinos wanting to pass through the area peacefully or challenge the ruler for it.
Black rhinos are not as social as white rhinos (Ceratotherium simum) and solitary individuals of both sexes are likely to be encountered. They have earned the reputation from humans as irascible, temperamental animals that prefer to investigate and possibly chase off a potential threat, rather than wait to be attacked or hope that the intruder will go away.
Three months after the initial battle it now seems certain that the victor enjoys the banks of the vast dam as his exclusive real estate. A highlight of a peaceful boat cruise on the luxury Suncatcher is to spot him on the dam’s green fringe – and a highlight of a far less peaceful excursion is to find him in the harbour area where we moor the boats!
For more of Jenny Hishin’s wildlife updates, follow the monthly Singita Pamushana Guides’ Diary – posted on Singita’s website.
Our very own Jaco Ehlers, Singita Sales Manager and charity-superhero, has just completed a 7 day cycle challenge all in the name of a good cause.
Jaco cycled the 330km-long Challenge4aCause challenge through the harsh, dusty terrain of the dramatic Damaraland Desert in Namibia to raise funds for the Save the Rhino Trust.
All the funds raised through the 2010 Challenge4aCause have been donated to an anti-poaching unit. The aim of this unit is to help preserve the highly endangered, and desert-adapted, black rhino.
And we have more cycling superheroes among us – Sabi Sand GM, Jason Trollip, and Singita Sabi Sand Head Ranger, Mark Broodryk, also recently took part in a charitable cycling event: the third and final Tour de Tuli (previously known as the Tour de Kruger). The 2010 Tour de Tuli saw 290 cyclists pedal 350kms to raise an impressive R700 000 for charity.
Every Rand and cent raised through the event will be used to teach rural children about the importance of the environment and the critical role they play in the preservation of our world.
For more photos visit the Singita Facebook page.