Quod oculus meus videt

By GrahamColling

A Baby Rhino Encounter

There are times in life when you feel very fortuitous.  today was one such time, as we were taken out on a game drive by the founder of the reserve, Ant Baber.  A main focus for him is to save the white rhino and he set up a charity in 2012 following the death by poachers of one of the reserves white rhino cows and its eleven month baby.  

Four days ago, as we were flying to South Africa, another cow had a baby son.  It's caused great excitement among all those that work and enjoy the reserve, but also a deep responsibility to help and protect the mother nurture this young life.  The mother, Sophie, has taken the calf high into the dense bush of the reserve, away from the other rhinos for its first few weeks.  A dedicated team are monitoring her movements and providing protection, for fear of something similar happening again.

While our hope was to get even a fleeting view of the baby, we were also lucky to see large herds of wildebeest, buffalo and zebra as we headed towards the rhinos last known position.  Ant was constantly on the radio talking to the tracker and other staff in the area.  We crossed tracks of the rhinos from time to time, but we were still struggling to narrow the search area.  

Then Ant heard from one of the riding guides that the mother had been spotted in dense undergrowth above us.  He decided to head up on foot, firstly giving the safety advice that in the event that the mother charged to lie flat on the ground.  Apparently a good kicking is preferable to being hit by her horn!  It did make me wonder if there was any empirical data to back up that advice!

We met the guide on horseback, leading a small group of guests.  Their elevated position had helped them spot the mother, but not as yet the calf.  Ant used the lead rider's horse as a shield as we moved carefully forward.  And there she was, looking straight at us from the bush.  Despite our best efforts the denseness of the bush made it impossible to see the calf that would be at her feet.

Ant asked the guide to ride around to a different vantage point, with everyone else following on foot.  Then we saw the calf; well at least his ears and top of his head, but still it was a fantastic moment.  The movements around her encouraged the cow to move off and our opportunity seemed lost.  Two shots, both with masses of vegetation between the camera and the subject.  Only manual focus would allow any chance of a sharp image of the calf.  It was fingers crossed, although checking the rear view screen suggested at least the semblance of focus!

We returned to the car, reversing and heading parallel to the rhino as she headed away.  Ant felt there might be another opportunity to intercept them as they crossed a track ahead.  We parked up and waited.  Then above us some movement of branches and leaves.  The movement was heading our way.  The mother was being extremely careful, checking ahead at every opportunity.  Then her head appeared at the edge of the track; she looked left and right and spotted the vehicle.  Ant called out to her, soothing sounds , she knew him well as had been demonstrated when we visited his home a couple of days ago.  All the rhinos visited his home regularly to be fed.

She made up her mind, broke cover and crossed the road and impressive speed, complete with baby following on behind!  It only lasted a few seconds, enough time to fire off a few shots and they were gone, breasting a small rise in the land and disappearing into the bush again. 

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