A recent trip to South Africa found me tracking rhino on foot and finding a much wilder side to safari than I was expecting.
At dawn we set out on a walk from our lodge and quickly fell into step behind our tracker and guide, through classic Kruger bush veld and then along a narrow sand river. We would pause to notice where elephant prints crossed the sand until we picked up the unmistakable imprints in the sand of a bull rhino. Rhino tracks resemble huge three leaf clover stamps in the soft sand and initially tracking was easy as we followed the male deeper into the bush. At a bend in the river bed, the mood changed very quickly. Sand had been kicked in every direction and it appeared as if there had been an almighty scuffle with drag marks and tracks right across the river bed. As we scanned the floor trying to unravel what may have passed before us we started to find a large quantity of blood in the dust and several presumptions raced through our minds. Had the rhino been shot? Was it still alive. Was it close and injured and about to charge at us??!
With the help of our incredible tracker who really was the living embodiment of a bloodhound, we moved through the bush, following broken grasses and the occasional tell tale blood spoor. In rocky areas the tracking became harder and the tracker had to cast himself in an arc to regain the line and then we were off again, picking up pace through the more open country and slowing warily where the vegetation became more dense. Eventually we saw the boulder-like back of the rhino just ahead of us in the long grass and could hear his ragged breathing. We took a GPS marker and returned to the truck so we could make the final approach without getting trampled to death.
From the relative security of the Land Cruiser we could get within twenty feet of the enormous bull and see a huge tear in the beasts flank. Ox peckers clustered around the rent in his side. We called in the vets and they got to work, first tranquillising the rhino and then stitching his thick flesh back together. The consensus was that we had just missed a battle between the rhino and a large bull elephant, a proper clash of the titans and not something you would be likely to see anywhere in Africa. The elephants tusk had caught the rhino just aft of his front leg and had torn up toward the shoulder. The force required would have lifted the rhino and it was a miracle it hadn’t killed him outright.
Luckily, as you can see, the vets did a great job and he was back on his feet a few hours later. One of the more extreme walks on the wild side to start the day!
With Ryan as head guide and ‘Mumps’ as head tracker makes the guiding at The Royal Malewane one of the foremost safari lodges in South Africa, offering exceptional game viewing backed up by incredible experiences.