South African wildlife – White rhinoceros

By Ed Yong | October 10, 2009 10:00 am

The white rhinoceros – the planet’s second largest land mammal. Even though it’s the most common of the five existing speceis of rhino, there are still just over 17,000 left in the wild. For comparison, more than five times as many humans pack into Wembley Arena when there’s a match on. With that in mind, we felt lucky and priveleged to see these magnificent animals, not just once but on four separate occasions.

These photos come from the clearest daylight sighting (most were of far-off animals lurking behind thicket), when we followed two individuals for about ten minutes. As you can see, it’s not white, it’s grey. However, even if you think you know where the name comes from, you probably don’t.

But the best rhino experience we had was at night. It was pitch-black and we were at the end of an evening game-drive, illiuminated only by the jeep’s headlights, the tracker’s torch and the glow of camera screens. We’d just seen slender mongooses and lesser bushbabies and were feeling pretty pleased when we came across a group of seven rhinos.

They slowly crossed the road in front of us… and started to bed down for the night in the middle of it. It was fairly comical – if you’re three tonnes of muscle and fat, it’s difficult to lie down gracefully. For good measure, one of the rhinos farted loudly and protractedly.

And then… one of the largest individuals (the big one standing up in the group shot) moved around the group and walked straight towards us. It stopped about three metres from the jeep. Rhinos have poor eyesight but superb hearing, and one ear was fixed on us, while the other scanned around for other noises. There was a communal and unspoken understanding among everyone in the vehicle that the time for laughing at rhino flatulence was now over and this was the time for being very quiet indeed to avoid the aforementioned three tonnes of muscle and fat taking two steps forward and ploughing straight into the side of the jeep.

The standoff lasted a fair while, after which we took off in the opposite direction. It’s worth noting that when the engine started and the jeep rocketed off, many of the sleeping rhinos took off like a shot. For such a bulky creature, the speed with which they got up, turned and ran off was absolutely astounding.

Comments (4)

  1. David

    Ed, seeing as you identified it as the “white rhinoceros” and therefore by species, I would have to point out that it is in fact not the second largest land mammal on the planet but actualy tied for fourth after the African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta africana- 24’l x 11’h x 9,000kg), the African Forest Elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis, 19’l x 8’h x 6,000kg), the Asian Elephant (Elephas colbertis, 12’l x 5,100kg), and then tied with the Indian rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis)… then there may be a few hippos (assuming they are considered “land” as opposed to “semi-aquatic”) that would argue “massiveness” versus “largeness”!
    (I should probably leave any references to the land sightings of “Nessie” out for the moment!)

  2. Awesome! Color me extremely jealous! That standoff sounds tense, but incredible.

  3. Lisa

    Hi Ed, I’ve only recently started reading your blog, but now I can’t do without it – what a fantastic resource. And I’m very pleased to see that you were able to enjoy my home country on your holiday. Thanks and please keep up the great work!

  4. Lauren Paredes

    I just love these photos! I was probably the first in line for a smashing if the Rhino had decided to go for us and for once in my life kept extremely quiet!
    Loving the blog!
    Lauren

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