A LESSON LEARNT
The morning had been slow. We started walking from Manzimhlope water hole and headed up a clearly trampled game path, which closely followed a small drainage line heading North West. Seeing plenty of rhino spoor, we expected to meet some of these gentle giants. But clearly that was not to be.
After some considerable time I decided to cross the drainage line and head across the open veld in the direction of a small river, where I hoped to find some water, and possibly some animals. Soon we saw the ground hornbills flying up in to a tree at our approach.
After giving us a suspicious eye, they flew off with slow lumbering beats of their wings. White flashes highlighted their retreat.
Spotting a group of warthog, and knowing that they are not the sharpest pencils in the pocket, I decided to see how close we could get. We started walking in their direction, but just heading past them, so as to not give them the impression that we were coming straight towards them. They stood watching our approach as we came to within thirty meters or so. Always adjusting our direction to face them sideways, we started to circle them and moving closer all the time. After almost making a complete circle and getting as close as 20 meters, the penny finally dropped, and they sped away in full flight.
How they survive in the bush ... it's a miracle!
By this time it was starting to get warmer, and we headed in to an open area walking parallel to the river, in the direction of a nice shady spot which I knew lay ahead. The slightest of breeze had come up and was blowing in my neck.
I first thought it to be merely some big rocks, but a quick check with the binoculars confirmed that it was a group of six rhino in front of us. They were at least 400 meters ahead, lazily resting in a shady area. I quickly briefed the group on rhino behaviour and safety precautions and discussed our approach with the second rifle. We were concerned about the wind, and decided to circle around the rhino, to try and neutralise the wind. We would approach them from the back, where there was a nice rocky area which would give the ideal viewing platform.
Moving forward, we had not yet travelled thirty meters in our effort to circle the rhino, when I suddenly noted a change in their behaviour. They restlessly started milling around, and then in an instant stormed away from us, leaving only a dust cloud behind as they crossed over the ridge.
I always knew the theory of the importance of smell in the bush. But never before had I seen such a clear demonstration of the incredible power of rhino olfactory abilities! I could not for a moment believe that it was possible for the animals to smell us at that distance, but that was clearly the only explanation for what we experienced.
As the last rhino disappeared over the ridge, I decided to make a mental note or two:
1. Animals can smell .... very well!
2. Never forget this!
Little was I to know what difference this lesson would make just a day later ...
_________________Imberbe = Combretum imberbe = Leadwood = Hardekool = The spirit of the Wildernis!
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