NAME: Ryan Hillier
DIARY ENTRIES: 10
PHOTOS UPLOADED: 275
VIDEOS UPLOADED: 1
CURRENT COMPANY: Kwandwe
Viewing animals whilst on foot is one of the most special experiences for me. Of course, the opportunity to get up close to some of Africa’s iconic creatures in a vehicle is also fantastic, especially from a photographic point of view. But the thrill of observing some of these animals going about their natural activities, whilst standing out in the bush on your own two feet is something else!
Our aim, when out on a walk here at Kwandwe, is to remain completely undetected by the animal throughout the experience, and there are challenges that come with this. Using the wind to our advantage, moving quietly and using available cover are all key to being successful in this effort. With this in mind, it is easy to realize why it is often not a great photographic opportunity and why sometimes we don’t get a good view of the animal...or even a view at all! Even in these situations though, just being out there on foot and using your other senses can add another dimension to a safari experience.
I recently had guests on safari who were very interested in attempting to view some of Kwandwe’s big game on foot. As always I was very excited to do so and whilst out on game drive we were ever hopeful of a good opportunity.
We were hoping to view rhino on foot and were searching for fresh tracks or even for rhinos themselves whilst on game drive during one afternoon of their stay. It had been tough going but we persevered and after checking quite a few area’s with no luck, I was overjoyed when Andy on the tracker seat called out, ‘Rhinos!’ Stopping and picking up my binoculars I looked in the direction Andy had pointed out (as usual with his incredible eyesight it was miles away!) and as I scanned to the right saw one, two and then three white rhinos. And then my eyes nearly popped out of my skull as there was a fourth rhino standing with them way off in the distance, but even from here the shorter head held higher up on the body and the smooth dip on the back were unmistakable...it was a black rhino!
This was an unbelievable opportunity for us to view both species on foot and after moving out of the area and a quick chat, we moved in on foot towards where we had last seen the rhinos. This is where things are so different to being on a vehicle. There is no talking, only the occasional whisper when necessary, and using all of your senses is both vital and rewarding. As we quietly made our way quietly through the scattered thickets we stopped a few times to look and listen before carefully moving on. The smell of freshly cut grass after the rain we had was enough to get our attention and a few metres further on there were fresh tracks on the ground on the game path we were using belonging to a white rhino. I love that feeling! Standing where a rhino had been feeding just a short time before and trying to piece together what had happened since the animal had been there, using just the clues they have left behind. Judging by the sets of tracks criss-crossing one another and the many clumps of grass that had been fed on by these white rhinos, I guessed that they had been slowly feeding through the area and had not yet encountered the black rhino we had seen near them a little earlier.
After following the tracks for a bit, through a gap in the bushes, I managed to catch a glimpse of a rhino’s back in a clearing up ahead. I was boiling over with excitement and after pointing it out to my guests, we just stood quietly and watched through our binoculars as the most incredible interaction I have ever seen on a walk unfolded!
The three young white rhino were bunched up close together and seemed to take it in turns to have a push and shove contest with the black rhino bull! We watched over the course of the next hour or so, moving into different gaps to get a view as we needed to, as they continually shoved each other around, often chasing the black rhino off a little only to have him come back and start again and chase them around in return! To be in a position to actually see all of this was very fortunate (and was mostly due to a slight height advantage we had from being on a small ridge just above the clearing that the rhinos were using as a wrestling ring), but to just stand quietly and listen to the noises was incredible! The sound of horns clashing, thick mud encrusted skin rasping against skin, heavy footfalls as they chased one another around and the heaving puffing sound of an excited rhino’s breathing was what we were taking in both whilst we could see the action and also when the rhinos disappeared from view.
Finally one chase went far out of our field of view, and although we tried to get into another few positions to look from and could still hear the rhinos, we could not see them anymore. The bush started to get quite thick as we tried to approach a bit closer to the clearing and knowing that the sunset would not be too far off and the light would begin to fade, we decided to head back towards the vehicle we had left what seemed like a lifetime ago and then possibly get another look from there.
The way back to the vehicle is often the most dangerous part of a walk like this, as it is easy to let your mind wander and to replay the events you have just experienced through your head, letting your awareness drop in the process...you never know what else might be around! After moving back a short distance and in a hushed whisper, we quickly shared our excitement before reminding each other to stay alert and then moved quietly and carefully back to our waiting vehicle. Once there, the excited conversation of what we had just shared got into full swing and we then made our way to try and get another look at the rhinos.
We were just in time as just when we came around a corner we found two of the young white rhino standing off to one side whilst the third was still jousting the black rhino bull. The youngster managed to push the bull back a few metres before he was being chased right across the road in front of us, with the black rhino trying to get some purchase with his horn in the youngsters backside! Thereafter a standoff ensued and finally the young white rhino rejoined his two companions and moved off in one direction as the black rhino went the other, seemingly quite happy with the bullying he dished out to his bigger cousins.
To have seen any of this at all would have been an amazing experience for me, but to have witnessed it whilst out there on my own two feet, on the animal’s terms and with them completely oblivious to my presence is something I will never forget! I am pretty certain that this was something I will never see again, especially not on a walk, and given the pressure on the world’s rhino population in the last few years I wonder how many more generations will even be able to imagine that such an experience was once possible.