Author’s note – I stress that I do not in any way condone hunting this beautiful and endangered creature – the hunter in this story is all bad – this is one more reason to dislike him in Route of Evil!
It was so quiet that his ears were creating their own internal noise to make up for the lack of any external stimuli. This was only interrupted from time to time by the gentlest of noises as the bushes and grass sighed in a very light headwind.
The two of them were on foot, picking their way cautiously through tall grass and scrub, moving steadily towards a thicket of bushes and trees ahead. The tension was high, anything could be hiding in this grass or lurking in the thicket.
His chosen safari outfitter had supplied all the necessary equipment and had recommended Steve, an extremely professional hunter with excellent local knowledge and most importantly a local expert on rhinos. Steve suddenly stopped, ducked and held up his hand to halt their progress. He pointed to indicate something was directly ahead.
Upwind he had spotted a rhino contentedly grazing on some low branches with its ample backside turned towards them. A pair of oxpeckers were diligently at work reducing the tick population from its thick hide. It was pulling at the foliage and munching on this, perfectly at ease.
The rhino was completely relaxed surrounded by a plentiful crop of plants, bushes and trees that provided it with the range of leaves, buds and shoots that it liked to eat. Here there were no natural predators. Its cousins in North Africa had to take precautions to ensure its young were not taken by Nile crocodiles, in India even full-grown adult rhinos feared attacks from tigers. But this rhino was secure within a private game ranch in Namibia; the only predator here was Man.
Its coloration and size suggested that it must be a black rhino; but they needed it to turn before they could be sure that it was the ‘surplus male’ that they were seeking. Another pointer was the fact that the black rhino tended to travel alone, while the white rhino usually moved within a group or ‘crash’.
White rhinos were not actually white, the name came from a contraction of the Afrikaans word for wide. Neither were black rhinos black, it was the dark mud from their wallows that was responsible for their name. Both varieties are grey!
They remained very still and silent. As Steve had explained earlier, ‘The rhino has very poor eyesight, but its symbiotic relationship with the tick birds works well. It is they that will alert their host if they notice us. The rhino does have a superb sense of smell but we will be approaching it from downwind. It also has extremely good hearing so while we are on foot, watch where you are stepping and we will use only hand signals.’
This rhinoceros had proved to be relatively easy to find. It was a creature of habit working its way around the same easily defined range; though reputedly black rhino were usually quite competent in hiding out successfully in sparse bush. Steve had been worth his fee even if this particular rhino was displaying poor skills of concealment.
They were close enough to hear its prehensile triangular upper lip adeptly pulling at the bush, stripping off a piece and munching it; possessing no incisors it had to rely upon this lip. It gave a low contented snort as it discovered some particularly cherished acacia leaves.
It moved to get a better purchase on the bush and they got their first side view. It was a fine beast, well over one-and-a-half metres tall at the shoulder, probably close to a ton in weight. The size of its head and the round ears confirmed that it was indeed a male black rhino.
Steve was trying to appraise the horn, as a rhino was assessed by the length of both its horns and by their circumference at the base. As the beast was old, the horn showed the inevitable signs of wear and tear which could somewhat confuse its length. The bull held its head high as it stripped the bush. It was evident that he still retained a sizeable front horn that curved up to a point well above his ears.
Steve concluded that this was the one they had been seeking, the surplus male – the one they were permitted to kill.