Brand ambassador

Pamushana | February 2020

I’m a self-appointed brand ambassador for black rhinos. They are invariably described as aggressive and extremely dangerous animals, and make no mistake, because it’ll be your last, they can be.

But there’s another side to them that few people ever see. I few years ago I had the extreme privilege of bottle-feeding a baby black rhino that had been rescued from a near-death situation where the mother’s previous calf was bullying and injuring it. I’ll never forget how he rested his head in my lap after his milk and wanted to nap. But a fly kept bothering him. One fly. A tiny fly that kept landing near his eyes, mouth or nose. He would throw his head up, flick his ears and squeal in annoyance. This little guy really seemed to have a flair for the dramatic arts but it went to show just how sensitive they are. He needed constant company and would cry plaintively if left alone or felt insecure for some reason.

When encountering black rhinos in the wild I always strive to create a very calm scene. I’ll immediately turn the engine off and insist on a ‘make-no-sound’ situation. Often the rhino, after recovering from the fright of a vehicle suddenly appearing in its territory, will slowly and cautiously tip-toe closer. Sometimes it’ll add some bluster and do little mock charges at the vehicle to see if it gets a reaction.

On the occasion photographed below I was alone and had my camera in quiet mode, and spoke in very low gentle tones to the rhino, and you can see how he is listening closely but has a fairly relaxed demeanour. If you feel threatened in any way all you need do is raise your voice, clap and make a noise and it’ll take off in fright. But it’s imperative to read their body language correctly as a full-blown charge will be costly.

They really are such sensitive reactive animals.