Imfolozi Wilderness Trail Day 3 - Rhinos at Camp
Rhinos in the river bed
We started off after breakfast, leaving our heavy backpacks in the camp. We felt light and free without them!
As we headed down onto the river bank to start our walk, a hyena drank from the river, and trotted off in the distance, passing our camp which we had just left. I asked Nunu whether it would try take our food which we had left at camp, but Nunu explained that all the animals in the wilderness area – including the hyenas and the baboons – are so wild that they stay well away from strange human smells. “Most of the animals here have never seen a human.”
Hyena drinking from river near our camp
Nunu called us together on the river bank. “Let’s give thanks again. Especially to the animals, our brothers and sisters, the elephant, the leopard, the hyena…for letting us visit their home. Today is Sunday, so we will go to church. But we are already in church, however, and we are just one of the many creatures which God has made.”
Nunu read the following from his notebook, and asked one of us to read the passage again: “Is modern man not losing sight of his origins? Does he not realize that once he destroys a part of nature, he cannot resynthesize it? Does he not care? Does he not even think about what he is doing further than if he will profit by it?”
Nunu continued reading: “Nothing separates us from the animals. We are made of exactly the same stuff. What gives us the right to destroy other creatures? The animals here are living like their forefathers…they haven’t changed at all. But look at us…we have changed so much, and we don’t live like our forefathers. Is that a good thing? What gives us the right to change so much? You decide.”
We headed off along the river bank, first coming across a buffalo, to which we gave a wide berth. We then came across the leg bone of an elephant. It’s huge, more than half the height of a tall man. “You see,” Nunu chuckled, “man is nothing compared to an elephant!”
Elephant leg bone
Then we crossed the river again, and made our way up to another spectacular look-out point. We can see for several kilometres downstream and upstream. Then we headed off again, and soon encountered a large herd of giraffe, with several zebras alongside them. They were very curious, and instead of running away, they walked towards us a little, wondering what we’re all about. For several minutes, we took photos, and enjoyed the close proximity of the wild animals.
Giraffe and Zebra
From there, we made our way back to a different part of the river, where thick papyrus reeds make walking tricky. Nunu has his rifle ready. We saw the tops of a few elephants in the distance. But it’s not the elephants Nunu is worried about, but rather buffalo which love this riparian thicket, and can be aggressive. We made it through the papyrus, and head up onto the ridge to have some lunch in the shade of an acacia tree.
After lunch, we backtracked along the river. Into the clearing, we saw a white rhino grazing. Then Nunu pointed out a lioness! In the sandy river bank. Immediately, the lioness saw us, even though we’re relatively hidden in the shade, and are several hundred metres from her. She had incredible eyesight and hearing. We watched her for a while, then Nunu suggested we give her a wide berth, as if we walked any closer, she could get spooked and run away. “We want her to be comfortable here.”
We made it back to camp, hot and tired, and enjoyed a well-deserved swim. At last light, we were treated to a visit by three white rhino, right across the river from our campsite! One of them was a small calf. At first, the rhinos didn’t know we were there. They drank a little, but then picked up our scent, and hesitated, before trotting back into the bush. It got dark quickly, and as we ate our dinner, I had to pinch myself – I’d been in the company of one of the rarest land mammals on earth, in its wild, natural environment, and for a while, it didn’t know of our human presence.
Again, on my shift, I heard the lions roaring, and then the leopard. This time, the leopard was much closer than the previous night. And it called for longer. My body and soul seemed to fill with an ecstatic energy that was neither restless nor misdirected, but rather gentle, strong and connected. A sense of deep belonging and acceptance. It was a strange feeling – being surrounded by wild animals, without any protection, yet feeling safer and more secure than I had ever felt.
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