Trekking in search of white Rhino, Motobas National Park, Zimbabwe
06.01.2012 - 06.01.2012 33 °C
The sign on the Park gate said: “stay in the jeep at all times”, “firearms forbidden”, “exit by 6pm”, “no open top jeeps” and “always stick to the tracks”. We broke all the rules and wow! what a great day. Trekking in the Matobas National Park in search of white Rhino was an opportunity not to be missed; the chance to leave the jeep behind and head into the forest on foot just too good to pass by. Our guide for the day: Andy was as rugged as they come – a white Zimbabwean, born to be a park guide, hugely knowledgeable, passionate and not afraid to use his rifle if need be. Just the sort of man you want with you on foot in the bush when actively looking for a huge stampeding horned wild animal. Andy’s an interesting, genuine guy; tourism providing him the perfect opportunity to spend every day in his beloved bush. He would often stop the jeep, leap out and either scoop up an insect/bug/small animla for close inspection (like a cameillien) or point out some feature of the bush none of us had ever considered before (like being able to tell which way a giraffe walks, how long ago and how old her baby is by the height of the branches they were munching). He entertained us with snake stories, camping disaster stories, and stories about his Zimbabwe. There is quite literally nothing he doesn’t know about life in the bush and we learnt more from him in a day than we ever thought possible.
The day wasn’t about “just another game drive” though – this was a trekking expedition, inside the National Park, in search of the rhino. Our Rhino sightings to date had been pretty disappointing: two horns through the bushes in the Mara, another two off in the distance in the Serengeti; each time photos way out of range. We got close to the Rhino at Mubayo camp over New Year’s but those Rhino are tagged or clipped so not the true wild animal we would have liked to experience. Andy stopped the jeep for our first little walk about and laid down the rules of the bush: single file, no talking, follow his hand signals and in the unlikely event that he ends up shooting something we back him up and support his side of the story absolutely. Right off we go then. There’s something really exciting about not knowing what’s going to happen; if you’ll suddenly spot a zebra around the next rock or if a rhino decides to charge and you’re literally hundreds of meters away from the safety of the jeep and the track. Part danger, part excitement, part trepidation. I love it!.
On that first foray into the bush we didn’t spot any rhino; only some deer, dung beetle and birds. Back to the jeep for some much needed liquid refreshment – and to try a different location further into the park. Mike spotted the first rhino, later that morning. Slightly contrary to our enforced stealth silent mode, he couldn’t help but shout out “rhino” in his excitement. Andy stopped the jeep, we all jumped out and in single file proceeded to get as close as possible to that rhino. And just how close would that be? – well there’s no zoom on those photos so that should give you a pretty good indication: about 5 meters away from the biggest male rhino I’ve ever seen. He didn’t seem at all bothered by our presence, continuing to munch grass the entire time with his head down despite the fact that we were all trying to get the classic horn in the air photo. We stayed with the rhino for about 30 minutes, getting progressively closer all the time. Individual photos were taken from all angles and all manner of facts learnt about the animal and its environment. Every single person in the group must have said the words “I can’t believe how close we are to that rhino” at least half a dozen times. Despite Matobos Park having a healthy population of Rhino – that male would be the first and only rhino sighting.
Also on the day’s agenda were cave paintings: estimated date of drawing the middle to late Stone Age which makes them the oldest of all Zimbabwe’s archaeological discoveries. On the way down from the caves we tried to take some ‘jumping’ photos as the view of the rocky landscape was just awesome, although the photo doesn’t do it justice. It was good to have some ‘culture’ on the programme, as just the previous day the group decided to veto a trip to the Zimbabwean ruins to avoid two long driving days.
Andy didn’t need much encouragement to delay getting us back to our campsite, preferring to stay in the park for as long as possible. He certainly did his best to find us a leopard late that afternoon but unfortunately to no avail. Mike and I were again congratulating ourselves on doing the Mara add on at the start of our overland trip as this has been the only place they have been seen (so far) in Africa. As the light began to fade behind the rocks, we were enjoying hot tea with ginger biscuits out the back of the jeep while Andy regaled us with stories from his boyhood: about sneaking out of boarding school to go bush camping and getting caned when caught by the head master.
To follow: Victoria Falls – white water rafting and jumping off cliffs.