As we trundle through the bush upon our vehicular throne we spot a large brown shape in the distance. We ease the vehicle to a stop, abruptly cutting off its guttural purr and stare in amazement at the creature before us.
Ahead, is the voluptuous rear-end of a mama Rhino with her baba close by chomping at some grass.
As you can see, the little lady is scratching her side satisfyingly on a lop-sided tree. You will also notice that she is covered in a generous layer of mud. This tactic is used by many animals as means of thermoregulation (controlling body temperature as being too hot or cold is damaging to the body) and sunscreen to protect from UV rays. Another reason, is to control for mites and other ectoparasites. Ectoparasites hang out on the outside of the host, in this case mama rhino, feeding from the skin or blood of the animal. By covering herself in mud and leaving it to dry she can then remove the pesky mites by giving herself a good scratch on the bark of a tree.
Unfortunately, while I’ve been speaking , our friends have moved onto the road before us (perhaps in protest? Or maybe just to pose?) providing us with an outstanding view but making it difficult to continue with the journey.
While these two make themselves comfortable, I can tell you a few cool facts about Rhinos:
Is it black or white?
Cue Michael Jackson. Although both are grey in colour, there are some morphological differences that separate the black and white rhino, with the most obvious being the shape of the jaw. The white rhino has a square jaw in comparison to that of the black rhino which is much rounder, a result of the different diets of each animal. The black rhino has developed a pointed lip to help with picking fruit and selecting leaves off branches while the white rhino has a flat, wide lip ideal for grazing on grass. The black rhino is also slightly smaller in size weighing in at about 700kgs- 1 ton with the white rhino weighing around 1-2 tonnes.
So, ladies and Gentlemen, are these rhinos black or white?
Rhino conservation is a disastrously brutal tale with the population of rhinos being massively depleted due to being poached for their horn. The rhino’s horn is made from Keratin (a protein found in hair and nails) which is a material that is thought to hold medicinal properties by some cultures meaning they can fetch a pretty heavy price on the black market.As result, despite not having many predators they have become critically endangered.
Conservation efforts in Africa starkly resembles a plot within George R.R Martin’s:A Game of Thrones, filled with violence and clashing political agendas. This is shown with the focus of conservation primarily based on financial incentives. Conservation is also disconnected on national and local levels making it difficult to implement specific projects effectively.
As we drive through the bush you are likely to come across anti-poaching vehicles, these being loaded with men carrying large guns and decorated to look like the bush. These formidable vehicles patrol reserves in order to combat poachers and protect the species inside. Anti-poaching vehicles are in constant contact with any drivers in the reserve and are notified if guides or guests are walking through the bush to ensure their safety.
Startled by the sound of our reawakened vehicle, the rhinos move slowly away from view, blissfully unaware of the inconvenience caused by their nap.
We begin our journey again. Driving further down the road, we see a strange mound off to the side with no animal in sight.
Who is building sandcastles in the bush?
All will be revealed on Wednesday!
- African Wildlife Foundation: http://www.awf.org/wildlife-conservation/rhinoceros
- International Anti-Poaching Foundation: http://www.iapf.org
- Black Rhino: http://www.rhinoresourcecenter.com/species/black-rhino/
- White Rhino: http://www.rhinoresourcecenter.com/species/white-rhino/