“The last time I saw a Black Rhino in the Sands was in 2004” said my tracker Derek. That is nine years ago! “So, it is really special to see it then?”, someone asked. “Indeed it is” I answered, “very special indeed…”
We were about an hour into our afternoon game drive when the call came over the radio: “Stations, I have one Bhejane (Black Rhino) on Arathusa airstrip…” There had been talk about a Bhejane hanging around in the area, but being such an elusive creature, nobody really believed it would be possible to actually see it.
Rhinos are majestic and mythical creatures. They are pre-historic in appearance, and are even depicted in Bushmen rock art dating back an astonishing 2000 to 20 000 years! Bushmen believed rhinos to be potent, and classed them as one of the rain animals. They were often seen together with “Shamaans” (a person capable of entering the spirit world) in their paintings and engravings.
The Black Rhino, weighing in at 1.2 tons, is much smaller than its cousin the White Rhino, which can weigh up to 2.3 tons (making it the second largest land mammal). Although the Black Rhino is smaller than its cousin, it is far more aggressive and has a natural curiosity, which can occasionally lead to an unprovoked charge. Thus, take great care when you do encounter this animal on foot! Needless to say, trackers and ranges alike are not very keen to follow the spoor (tracks) of a Bhejane.
One usually encounters Black Rhinos in thick bush, which fits their habits. They are browsers and use their prehensile lips (capable of grasping) to feed on the juicy leaves and twigs of different plants.
We immediately responded to the sighting and arrived just in time. There he stood in all his might and glory, watching us intently with his small beady eyes. True to his nature, he snorted, lifted his head a bit higher and gave a few quick steps towards us. How absolutely lucky we were to see this pre-historic creature. I still wonder how any human being could murder them without a shred of regret…
My eyes moved slowly over the rhino, taking in every single feature – from his stumpy legs to his barrel-shaped body; his roundish ears and long face with pointed mouth (unlike the wide or “wyd” shape of the White Rhino). It’s wonderful to see how all animals are adequately equipped to fit a special niche in the ecosystem.
One of the guests observed the “wounds” on the flanks of the Black Rhino and asked if he had been in a fight. Unlikely, and this is why;
Rhino “sores” are skin lesions caused by a parasite. When visiting communal dung heaps along its trails, the rhinoceros will pass the infection along, resulting in almost every individual being infected by a small filariform worm called Stephanofilaria dinniki. The five other species of this genus of worm are all parasites of cattle. The intermediate host is a biting fly, which breeds in dung. The sores are inflamed, often septic, patches of skin as much as 20 cm in diameter. Oxpeckers can cause further damage to the skin by opening up the sores.
We sat with him for another couple of minutes until he moved off into the thickets.
Was it special? ABSOLUTELY!!!!