Tracing the tracks of black rhino

Sabi Sand | June 2019

With reports of fresh black rhino tracks coming in after morning game drive, a team of enthusiastic rangers assembled to head back out into the bush to try and locate her. The last sign of her was a footprint in the sand, however, with a few hours having passed and the midday sun beating down, it was difficult to follow the direction as the track had been disturbed by animals walking over it.

We split up into two teams to cover more land. Large dark gabbro rocks mapped the floor, hidden by the dense maze of tall, dry yellow grass. We checked for recent signs of feeding from the small shrubs sprinkled over the land, some of them still clinging onto their crisp green leaves. Piet and myself scanned the area in the direction we presumed she went. Black rhinos have a tendency to ‘zig zag’ when they move, making it even more of a challenge to follow their direction. Pathways cutting through the grass marked various animals’ movements and made it almost impossible to determine which one she used.

Then in the distance, the unmistakable dark outline of a rhino came into view. Heart leaping, we checked the wind direction and staying safely downwind to her, quickening our pace. Meeting the rest of our team, we circled ahead of her and waited behind a large guarri bush close to where we thought she may emerge. Listening intently to the sounds of the midday activity, we could make out some chomping sounds in the distance, slowly getting closer to us. But was there just her? Crouching low and a safe 50 meters away we watched as the rustling of bushes got closer and a dark grey head emerged from the shrubs.

Absolute silence; heart racing. I held my breath as she stepped out in front of us. That classic alert raised head, ears twisting around like satellite dishes. Her two horns pointing skywards and the unmistakeable sound of her deep heavy breathing, seemingly so loud in the frozen silence.

She lifted her head up higher, slightly alert in the open. Then she moved on, keeping along the game trail. We waited, listening to her footsteps. And then my heart stopped. A baby rhino stepped out in into the road where she had been standing seconds earlier. What an incredible experience to share with colleagues and friends. The calf paused, then moved on following close behind mother.

To our knowledge this pathway they were heading along was going to a dam, could it be that they would stay on this path and move there for a lunchtime drink? As a team we headed into the thickets towards the dam, circling around so as not to give away our position, using the wind and terrain to our advantage. We ducked under branches, climbed over fallen trees and emerged at the edge of the woodland. A steep wall of sand in front of us indicated the dam was on the other side. Crawling up the side of the bank, we peered over the edge and there on the left of the dam, just like a scene from a story were the mother and baby, sipping from the dam.

We lay flat against the hot sand, watching them as they drank. Minutes passes by and after some time they started to move off, mother leading the way. This was such a stunning scene to watch and we all felt so privileged to view these incredible animals and watch this snippet of their lives.

Tracking answers:
The image gallery above has photographs of some tracks from last month’s article.
The answers are: A – Hippo, B – Leopard and C – Jackal.