Georgann Meadows | Monday, April 11, 2016
“Conserving Endangered Rhinos in South Africa: Getting to Know a Species and Their Guardians”
"Conserving Endagered Rhinos in South Africa." Little did I know I would be getting to know the white rhinos inhabiting the private reserve personally. It's been four weeks since I first saw them, two weeks since I've returned home, and I miss hopping on a truck and going out to look for rhinos every morning! These are magnificent beings...prehistoric in nature, gentle in disposition. I gained appreciation for them when I first visited South Africa on an Earthwatch expedition in 1999. They reminded of giant grey cows grazing peacefully on grassland. But my fondness for them grew on this trip as I came to know them as individuals.
Two of the females have young male calves, and it was always a special treat to observe the mothers watch over their youngsters. One day was particularly memorable when the two families met and the little ones interacted.
An expectant mother will be chasing her son off soon so she can give birth and care for her newborn, but we saw her tolerate the company of another young, lone male. Perhaps she was encouraging the relationship between the two boys so that her son won't be lonely after she has the baby? We watched a big male approach the trio and after some posturing and huffing, walk off to graze peacefully some distance away, backs turned to each other in detente. These are complex creatures with interesting social lives!
In addition to our species of interest, we shared each day with elegant giraffe, several stunning varieties of African antelope, many humorous wart hogs, stately blue wildebeest, beautifully patterned leopard tortoises, dozens of bird species and plenty of interesting invertebrates.
The reserve itself was a delight to be in, with varied terrain ranging from grassland to shrub and forest. We saw it transform from parched landscape (because of drought) to a fertile green habitat as the rains began to fall during our stay. It was magical! Drying waterholes became bullfrog courting grounds and dam began to fill, bringing the (huge!) catfish in the lake near our camp back to life.
Most impressive are the people working to protect this reserve and the animals thriving there. They live, eat and breathe the place, dedicating their lives to managing the environment for the wellbeing of the wildlife living there. They are an inspiration! I am thrilled to have met them, enjoyed working with them, and honored to know them!