Walking With Rhino

A guest blog from Chanters Lodge guest Ruth Binney (nee Chanter)

Early on Saturday morning, while my friends and family back in the UK were still in their beds I was literally yards from a dozing white rhino! Aside from my first glimpse of Victoria Falls in 1990 the Rhino Walk was by far the most amazing experience I’ve had in four visits to Livingstone. It is not widely known that Zambia is one of the few countries in which it is possible for tourists and wildlife enthusiasts to observe animals on foot.

From a 6.45 departure with Bwaato Adventures from the Lodge Grace, Richard’s daughter and I drove to the Mosi O Tunya National Park accompanied by tour guide Tony and his trainee Pilata, pausing to observe a troop of baboons sauntering in our path before we met with Clayton who would be our leader and armed guard as we walked single file through the bush. His weapon, we were assured, was largely to ward off poachers, but could be used in an emergency if we were in danger.

But before we could climb down from the vehicle we spotted a huge male elephant moving swiftly across our path. Grace was terrified! For me it was an awesome sight, but I was also apprehensive as the animal appeared to be confused as to the direction it was taking. Once on foot we immediately saw a family of giraffes (what elegant creatures they are) then, helped by other trackers out in the field, made our way to ‘rhino territory’ pausing at intervals to examine everything from hoof prints to animal dung (with dung beetles) which gave clues to the creatures that had passed by. Both Tony and Pilata were mines of information and impressively in touch with every sign and signal in the landscape.

After about 40 minutes we came on the male rhino, half asleep beneath a tree and luckily surprisingly undisturbed by our approach, though there was no doubt that he could have become active and charged us at any moment. Slow, smooth actions were essential, and we managed to observe him for a full 15 minutes at the end of which he raised his mighty tonnage onto four legs and moved himself to a shadier spot. The trackers in the field informed us that there were 4 other rhino in the vicinity, but too far away for us to reach easily so we returned to our vehicle and drove to the bank of the Zambezi above the Falls for refreshments before driving back through the Park. Here, like scenes from a wildlife documentary, impala, zebra, wildebeest, buffalo, vervet monkeys, grey hornbills and white throated beeaters were among the creatures ‘on display’ for us. And at every turn Tony and Pilata were on hand with information.

So for those of you who might one day need to know such things:

A rhino has 5 separate layers of epidermis making its skin viritually impregnable, Its horn is made of hair and can regrow.

A wildebeest separated from the herd can literally die of loneliness.

The patterns on a zebra are unique to each individual. A newly born zebra will have learned the pattern of its mother within hours of birth.

Buffalo have poor vision but are alert to the shapes of objects. If the shape changes (as our vehicle did when Tony dismounted) it will immediately go on the alert.

To disguise their scent, trackers crush and apply the seeds and leaves of wild lavender to their skin. It is also said to be an insect repellant, though I wouldn’t be prepared to take a chance on that!

And if you are lost and thirsty in the bush, look for elephant dung. It is full of water.

Finally – if you are lucky enough to be in Zambia and staying at Chanters Lodge, DON”T miss the Rhino Walk!!