An experience like no other - standing just feet away from wild rhino
29 Jan 2018
Share article on
It isn’t every day that you get to walk in the footsteps of one of the world’s most iconic and endangered species. Yet that’s exactly what we found ourselves doing at Mkhaya Game Reserve in Swaziland, a place famed as having one of the best anti-poaching units in Africa. We were tracking rhinos, both white and black. I was a little nervous at the thought of being out in the bush on foot. Sure, we had a couple of armed rangers with us, but on our game drive the day before we’d seen hippos, crocodiles, and several grumpy buffalo - none of which I particularly wanted to bump into on our morning stroll.
We set off into the wilderness with a couple of other guests, stepping stealthily over fallen branches and being careful not to make a sound. If we had any chance of seeing a rhino we needed to remain silent. Sensibly, I’d positioned myself firmly in the centre of the group and reckoned I could outrun at least 2 of them if anything terrifying occurred.
Of course running would have been rather silly.
Some rhinos had visited our camp during the night. I knew this because there was a huge pile of dung waiting for us outside our cabin that morning. It was still steaming. They weren’t far away, something which was exciting and worrying at the same time.
Twenty minutes into our hike we were still alive and began to relax, finally starting to see all the little things that had gone unnoticed when we were out on game drives. We had glimpses into the fascinating lives of dung beetles, admired towering termite mounds and learnt that the presence of fish eagles is a good indication that water is nearby. So if you’re ever lost and thirsty in the bush, find a fish eagle!
Eventually we came to a large clearing with a strong animal smell. I noticed the unusually large expanses of dung spread across the ground and asked our guide why we were here. He grinned and announced to the group that we were in fact standing in the middle of a rhino toilet. Great. Apparently they’re quite tidy creatures who like to do their business in the same place. I don’t think the rhinos who were in camp earlier got that memo.
We were like sitting ducks, waiting for the rhinos to come to us, not knowing which direction they might appear from first. There was nothing to hide behind so I subtly manoeuvred myself between the rangers and practised standing like a statue. You see rhinos have incredibly poor eyesight, so if you don’t move, they hopefully won’t see you. That’s the plan anyway.
It didn’t take long for them to arrive.
There were 3 female white rhinos, each followed closely by a young calf (we were there in Spring which is a great time to visit if you like baby animals!). We all stopped breathing for a few moments, but the adults didn’t seem to notice our presence. Which was good since there were only a few clumps of grass in between us and some of the most dangerous animals in Africa.
The young ones however were inquisitive. They watched us curiously, wondering what these strange creatures were doing in their bathroom. I prayed they wouldn’t come any closer, because that would inevitably have brought mama along too. Thankfully they stayed put and we were able to slowly back away into the bush, wanting to chatter excitedly about what we’d seen, but remembering we had to stay quiet. We weren’t out of the woods yet.
I often like to say that the magic of safari is as much in the anticipation as the actual sighting and, yes, tiptoeing through the bush wondering what we were going to see really did get our hearts racing. Yet the event itself far surpassed anything that our imaginations could have concocted. Standing so exposed in the presence of such magnificently powerful animals was definitely one of life’s ‘moments’. And not one we’re likely to forget any time soon.