A hurtling freight train

Pamushana | January 2020

Black rhinos are a rare species of animal which have prehistoric features, folds of tough skin on the shoulders, two keratin horns grown in a straight line on the front of the face, and a tough upper lip which they use to hook small branches of trees when they are feeding.

Black rhinos feed on some poisonous plants which other animals do not touch. Our cultural belief about this is that when a black rhino goes to sleep it goes in to a very deep sleep and does not want to be disturbed, so possibly the toxins in the plants sedate it.

For millions of years black rhinos have not changed their behaviour. There is full evidence of this from our rock art which shows people running away from black rhinos.

Black rhinos live solitary lives, and their eyesight is not all that good, but their hearing and sense of smell is excellent. The scent they like least is human scent and as soon as they detect human scent they charge it or take off as fast as possible through thick bush. Lots of people talk about charging animals such as lion, buffalo and elephant, but when it comes to a black rhino charge it really is a wake-up call!

One of my experiences with a black rhino charge was when driving east in an area of sickle bush vegetation. It was calm and cool and black rhinos really love that type of weather. The sun was just surfacing from Mother Earth, and I was explaining to my guests that this was the typical habitat for black rhinos. Not fifty metres to my right I saw mist rising up from two channels like an old man smoking a pipe. I put my right foot on the brake paddle and said, “Here we are, a black rhino!” He stopped feeding and lined his two horns up us one, facing us.

My guests were capturing the moment on camera, but one of them then dropped a lens cap – the sound of the lens cap hitting the floor of the vehicle ignited the situation. As I watched I saw the inner red lining of his lip curl up, and I knew trouble was on its way. The full charge sounded like a freight train as one and half tons came hurtling towards us. There was no time to turn the ignition key so I started shouting, and he slammed on brakes in a cloud of dust a few metres away. As the dust settled around us you could see his eyes blinking many times and his nose was held high trying to define what had invaded his private territory.

Thankfully a light breeze blew his way and he realised he was now in our territory so, with loud snorting noises, he turned and took off – loud stomach rumbles and snapping branches accompanied him as he crashed through the thick bushes.

There was not a sound from my guests, so I turned to them and said, “Wow, that was close, can I see your shots?” They admitted that the few they had taken were totally out of focus as it was all so fast and furious!]

Just look at how sharp that horn is!

A few facts:

  • Black rhino bulls weigh up to 1 200 kg (2 645 lbs).
  • They can charge at speeds of about 55 km (34 mph).