In search of the black rhino

Recently, WAG’s own Mark Lungariello had the trip of a lifetime when he went on safari in South Africa. He even had a rare opportunity to see the elusive black rhinoceros. For more on Mark’s adventure, check out January WAG’s “Passion for Living”:

 

Although the guides were able to communicate with other guides as to where the action was on any particular day, they were left mostly to their own tracking talents to find rhinos. The animals are in the midst of a poaching crisis, which is dwindling their populations and threatening their continued existence. They’re hunted for their horns, which are sold on the black market and are thought in parts of the world to have medicinal powers for treating disease, sicknesses and even erectile dysfunction. According to Julian Rademeyer’s book “Killing for Profit: Exposing the Illegal Rhino Horn Trade,” the cost of rhino horn per kilogram is more than gold, cocaine or heroin in some Asian countries.

Poachers, financed by wealthy smuggling rings, have become so sophisticated that rangers and trackers never discuss rhino sightings via radio. They ask tourists not to tweet or use other social media that contain GPS tracking information for fear that the poachers could locate the creatures, whose horns they sometimes hack off using nothing more humane than a handsaw. White rhinos are larger than black rhinos though more lumbering and peaceful. The animals are gray but are called “white” due to an English mistranslation of the Afrikaans word meaning “wide.”

Safaris on the African continent were once pursuits of white Westerners seeking trophies who depleted the animal populations. Ironically, modern safaris on the preserves are more likely to attract those sympathetic to the giant creatures. One Friday afternoon, we stumbled across five white rhinos slowly crossing a grassy clearing. Watching those relics from the prehistoric era in their giant serenity is something that can’t be easily explained, but suffice to say that with all the emotions it brought, none of us had any itch to do their leathery hides any harm.

At the lodge one morning by the pool, a worker on a laptop explained to an English couple that their chances of seeing a black rhino were close to 0 percent. We accepted that near impossibility, but on the way back to the lodge from one game drive, Chad slammed on the brakes of the truck and gunned the engine in reverse. “Black rhino,” he said. Off to the left side of the car, the rhino looked up at us with an audible sound noting his curiosity: “Hmmm?”

Everyone in the truck picked up his camera and clicked away, trying to catch a clear snapshot through pesky tree branches. I did, too, but then stopped. It was a moment I decided I’d rather experience not through a viewfinder but with my own eyes. Then he was off into the trees again. I hope he is wandering somewhere there still today, defying the odds and staying safe from his misguided would-be killers. – Mark Lungariello

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