Rhino Scatalogical

From the sublime (black-shouldered kite stooping, early morning, sunlit) to the frankly scatalogical: rhino pooping.

Like many of us, I have seen more rhino poop on my many game drives over the years than you can shake a stick at, as the saying goes – but I have never actually caught one of these beasts in flagrante. Madikwe, of course, with its many treats and surprises, would be the place to do so – and indeed, we came upon this leviathan on the job, one sunny afternoon, and I simply had to take photos.

Madikwe Magic

It is hard to describe our experience at the Madikwe Game Reserve up near Botswana – Rob and I have been on many other game-viewing trips, in the Kruger Park, the Pilanesberg, Marakele, the St Lucia Wetlands and more, but never anything like this.

Two examples will suffice, at least for now. On one of the afternoons when we did not go on a game drive, we were entertained for hours at the waterhole right in front of our (unfenced) lodge at Mooifontein, by buffalo, giraffe, impala, kudu and – most thrilling of all – a standoff between a rhino and a herd of elephants. The elephants were at the waterhole, drinking, when the rhino emerged from the tree-line, stage right, and headed in their direction. As he saw, or smelled, the elephants, he hesitated, and in a moment the herd took off in a cloud of dust, almost like a flock of birds, if you can imagine elephants as birds, while the largest of the elephants turned to face the rhino, and charged him down. The rhino backed away, and backed, and backed, until finally it turned tail and ran. It was hours before it returned to the waterhole, and then only with extreme caution.

On the last of our morning game drives – this is the second story – we spent maybe two hours waiting and watching as a pair of male cheetahs carefully worked their way around a zebra herd, approaching through the long grass, pausing and moving on, as the herd drew closer and closer. At one point two healthy-looking young zebra came into range and we were sure the cheetahs would make a run at them, but they didn’t, and we feared they had given up. And then, from the left, came a female zebra with a foal – exactly what the cheetahs were waiting for. You could see the sudden stiffening and attention, the sense of sinews coiling, as they watched – as we watched with them – the foal suckling. And you knew, as you watched, that the foal had only minutes to live – and then the mother trotted on, and the foal trotted behind it – and the two cheetahs took off.

Our game ranger, Lucas, yelled at me to sit, and threw the LandCruiser into gear, flinging it at a mad, careening, crashing pace in an arc through the bushes – over thorn trees and logs, bouncing and lurching, until we came, within a matter of minutes, upon the cheetahs with their prey – jaws clamped upon the zebra foal’s throat, paws draped almost lovingly across its neck, pinning it down, holding it fast. It was already dead, but they were taking no chances.

That’s enough, perhaps, at least for now, to give you a sense of Madikwe magic. Except of course for the photos.

There will be more of those, photos I mean, a series of series – an elephant series, a lion series, a cheetah series, a rhino series, a series of images of a black-shouldered kite hovering, poised in the air, over the next weeks, and possibly months, as I find time to work on them. And some text too, perhaps.

Photographing rhino

Photographing rhino, in my amateur experience, can be a challenge. Mostly the problem is finding them in the first place, and when you do see them they tend to be just standing around, galumphing great hulks, or snoozing in the shade of a tree, where the light is awful.

If you’re a pro, you wait for the right moment – and waiting can mean a long, long time, before something interesting happens. When you’re not a pro, just someone like me, you’re either driving, with limited time at your disposal, or you’re on a game drive, which means someone else is driving, and there are a whole lot of others with you, who want to look, snap a picture, and get a move on.

So I was really glad to get these two, contrasting images, one somnolent, the other full of energy and movement, and work them up in black and white. They were taken during our visit to the St Lucia Wetlands, but across the road as it were, in the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve, a mere 45 minutes from the town itself.

It’s worth a visit.