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5. Rhinos R Us

Safari Walk: B4--"I don't think so."

Billy's Lodge, Limpopo, South Africa
Friday, August 7, 2015

Located on the banks of a "seasonal" river, Billy's is surrounded by a “resident lion pride” and features majestic views of plains game and trees—Knobthorns, Leadwoods and Marulas which are indigenous to this savannah region. Billy’s has four private and quite large luxury suites which encompass a personal lounge, mini-bar, dining area, “super king-size” bed, en-suite bath, indoor and outdoor shower, private plunge pool and private deck. They’ve got quite a wine cellar which is set into a natural rock face reminiscent of a bushman’s cave. Capacity here is a maximum of twelve guests. B4 finds that they do have excellent wifi here. We are both taking a malaria prophylaxis “Doxycycline Hyclate” and are reassured by both the window screens and elegant mosquito nets which envelop the bed. Mosquitos are a problem “mostly” at night, by the way. At this time of year, however, one wonders what all the fuss is about. Mosquitoes, we think, could not make it through the cold nights.

And, there are those (maybe us) who think humans could not make it through the cold morning game drives. But, we have--almost--the right clothes and woolen blankets to surround us. Off we trundle and within five minutes we encounter a lone bull elephant. He feeds while keeping an eye on us. As he creeps closer he is calm. As we move closer to him he is agitated. We retreat.

Our goal for the morning offers very low odds of success. We've seen everything we came to see except for two species: leopard and rhinocerus. Rhino have not been seen in several days and we have repeatedly had our expectations for a rhino sighting reduced by Josh's comments. One never wins without trying, however, and that's our target.

Along the way we encounter a herd of zebra, our first close-up look at these striped donkeys. They are skittish in the way a wild horse would be but we stop and get an eyeful.

Driving onward, our spotter, Conrad, raises his hand and speaks in Zulu (I think) to Josh who stops our Range Rover. Looking at the dusty road in front, they both are on heightened alert. New-hire trainee Ashley is told to mind the group while Conrad and Josh head off into the bush. A second Ezulwini vehicle from River Lodge appears. Spotter and guide from that Rover join our leaders and the four of them are off into the scrub. Within five minutes, fired up, they are all running back to the vehicles. Engines too are fired up and off we race. edc545a0-2e88-11ea-b9d5-bf2a7fe490d2.jpgedc63000-2e88-11ea-be2b-171a91639cbc.jpgedbe67d0-2e88-11ea-93ed-4b27a7791a4f.jpgedc2fbb0-2e88-11ea-a07e-51b9e63eec92.jpg

Within a couple of minutes I spot an outline at our three o'clock position that isn't "natural." It's a rhino. Then, it's two. We move forward as does the other vehicle and a third that has appeared from somewhere. At first this pair is obscured, then partially obscured and then in the open for us to see. Everyone is thrilled. These are southern white rhino, the most abundant in Africa with the last census estimating a population of just over 20,000. The other species, the black rhino, is more endangered with a population estimated to be less than 5,000 in the world. The two are not really of different color. White rhino are larger and have a flat broad mouth rather than the pointed mouth black rhino use for picking up twigs to eat.

There is no way we can get close to these skittish characters so we must be satisfied from afar. B4 has a video that you'll want to see.

White rhino like these weigh from 4,000 to 5,000 pounds. They would be abundant were it not for poachers who slaughter them for their keratin horns (keratin is similar to the protein that makes up human hair and fingernails) which are sold on the black market in Asia, primarily Viet Nam for a per ounce price greater than gold. A rhino horn from here can be sold for more than a quarter million dollars in Viet Nam. African rhino, both black and white, have two horns so there is more to sell. Poachers are shot on sight in most of southern Africa. But, here in South Africa, research shows that 333 were killed in 2010, 668 in 2012 and over 1,000 more were slaughtered in 2013. The battle is being lost.

For us, seeing these creatures is a special treat. We linger not long enough. You can feel the electricity in the air here where real electricity is miles distant. Our goal achieved, we retreat to leave these unique creatures in peace.edbc6c00-2e88-11ea-86e6-35b380b3c75c.jpgedc45b40-2e88-11ea-a8bf-1dc1ddf69dd8.jpgedc322c0-2e88-11ea-a2be-790bbe372733.jpgedb56720-2e88-11ea-9fba-a55a90397d5d.jpgedbe67d0-2e88-11ea-8fa0-45785aac0be0.jpgedc01580-2e88-11ea-a163-39eaf456a438.jpged218b90-2e88-11ea-b4b8-2d0b929461f5.jpged23d580-2e88-11ea-91f7-771a7a54dcf9.jpged316a10-2e88-11ea-9eee-9706e57752f2.jpged1e7e50-2e88-11ea-8405-f1706046d167.jpged1c5b70-2e88-11ea-9eee-9706e57752f2.jpgc62e57d0-2e87-11ea-9eee-9706e57752f2.jpg

Soon we stop in a nearby clearing for coffee and Amarula (South African Cream Liquer made from the marula fruit) and are joined by the two other vehicles which shared in our rhino viewing. Stories are swapped and soon we are off to return to Billy's Lodge. Along the way, Conrad (who does not excite) becomes animated. Josh slams on the brakes. Conrad, Josh and Ashley all kneel in front of our Range Rover and new excitement is apparent. They have found cheetah tracks.

We do not find these beautiful creatures and no one is surprised as they are very rare here. We are disappointed only a tiny bit. How could one feel let down after our commune with the rhino? We learn about termite mounds. They are like icebergs with just a bit of themselves visible above ground. They are not considered bad things around here but, perhaps, that's because there are no houses.

Back to the lodge, we order big breakfasts and, while we wait, a bull elephant visits the water hole beneath our viewing platform. We watch him drink while our breakfast is being readied. The eggs may as well be fried because our senses surely are. It's been a morning to remember.

After breakfast I write on this blog and Beryl attacks the non-native creature that has been stalking us: email. At 1:30, we join Josh for a "safari walk," something B4 was hesitant to undertake. What if there are dangerous beasts about? Josh promises to scout our route before we go and, overcoming trepidation, Beryl agrees. It is great fun. We see lots of tracks: impala, giraffe, elephant and, Josh tells us, black rhino (which we did not know existed nearby). We learn of poison trees and elephant habitat destruction and species overpopulation, hunting, culling and more. Seeing "The Lion King" only gives you the basics, it seems.

Lunch follows: lasagna, salad, squash, tomato and olives galore. We are joined by travelers newly arrived from River Lodge so we ask questions to see what is in store for us tomorrow. edb56720-2e88-11ea-9fba-a55a90397d5d.jpg

The afternoon drive departs promptly at 3:30. We're onto a bull elephant and his boys right away. They are having a fine time destroying a patch of dried vegetation gaining nutrients for themselves while, unfortunately, totally messing up what would otherwise be--when the rains come--beautiful foliage. The elephant problem here is complex and I don't know enough about it to comment other than to lament. Here's a quiz:

We drive on and spot not much. There's a rare bird, according to Josh so I click. Do you know what this bird is? I don't. Soon, the sun is ready to set and we adjourn for sundowners--a nice SA SB. We're happy.At dinner later, we're joined by an elephant who gets something caught in his teeth; no worry, we have an elephant toothpick.

That last sentence is not accurate but its the only way I know to see if you actually read this far.

Tomorrow, after our morning game drive, we move from Billy's to River Lodge. We hear that the monkeys there are a riot. We'll let you know. We hope you are having fun reading this; we're having fun living and writing it.

Posted by paulej4 16:24 Archived in South Africa

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