When Danger is Now-Now

Our Tau Game Lodge ranger, Morah-Leigh Cooper, approaches our vehicle toting a .458 Winchester

If a South African tells you something will happen “just now,” they mean sometime in the future — perhaps fairly soon, but not immediately. If it’s happening “now-now,” hold onto your seat on the Land Cruiser.

Yesterday at about this time — 5:45 a.m. — we were rolling along the veld near Tau Game Lodge with our wry and experienced ranger, Morah-Leigh Cooper.  We’d seen antelope, a dazzle of zebra, and bright-colored birds.  There was time to daydream and wake up slowly, bouncing along through Madikwe Game Reserve with a wool blanket over your knees against the morning chill.  After a while in the open, we entered an area where the thick brush crowded the dirt road.  That’s when the black rhino charged.

Photo by Jim Baar of the black rhino that charged us

Someone on the right side of the Land Cruiser saw him first and shouted, at which point Morah spotted the rhino immediately and yelled a hostile greeting in a language I did not understand, probably Afrikaans. She accelerated quickly.  I was on the left side of the car and saw the rhino moving quickly through the bush, as if taking dead aim at the vehicle.  Darlene, in the back seat, shouted “Go!” — a reasonable suggestion, given that she was sitting in the seat closest to where the front horn of the rhino would land if the charge continued.

Unfortunately, I had not turned on my Livescribe recording pen, so I don’t have audio of the event until moments after the rhino stopped his charge before reaching the road.  Rhinos have terrible eyesight, but maybe he’d gotten close enough to the vehicle to decide it wasn’t worth bothering with.

Once we were out of danger, the mission became getting another look at the rhino.  Morah backtracked in a big loop, but she did not alert fellow rangers about the sighting by two-way radio.  “Poachers have learned our frequencies,” she explained. At this point, the Land Cruiser was carrying five extremely alert guests.

Morah-Leigh Cooper, our peerless ranger

Morah explained that black rhino are highly aggressive animals. “Eighty percent of black rhino charges are false, but that one was deadly serious,” she said. “He’s obviously had a bit of a rubbish evening.”  She also assured us that, though the rhino can charge at 45 kilometers per hour, “I can go faster than that,” so we could have outrun him in our trusty Land Cruiser if the charge had continued.

As we looped around the area of the rhino, we did not take a narrow link road into the bush toward him, because it would have been difficult to move at high speed on it. We came upon another vehicle with ranger and guide on a main dirt road on the other side of the area. Away from the two-way radio, Morah told her counterpart about the black rhino’s charge.  “He was moving quite quickly, so he should be here now-now,” Morah told her counterpart, who decided to head down the narrow link road in search of the animal.

“I wonder if it would be a good idea to follow him,” she mused aloud as the other vehicle started up and pulled away.  Deciding to do so, she told us, “Guys, if he charges, everybody must get to the middle, because I’m not going to be able to stop and watch for branches. You just need to tuck in, okay?”  This brought us all closer together, to avoid bushes with thorns that looked huge to me and seemed to have a mind of their own, reaching into the vehicle in search of flesh.

Morah told us the ranger in the other vehicle and his spotter, who sits in a totally exposed chair at the left bumper, were not Setswana people, the main group in Bostwana.  “They are Shangaans — Shangaans are fearless,” she explained.  So we followed them down a tunnel of thorns, which I can hear scraping against the Land Cruiser on the LiveScribe recording.  At one point, the lead vehicle stopped, and we waited. We listened to sweet bird songs and wondered if the black rhino might emerge from the bush at any moment, even more irritated than before.

“It would actually be good video footage of the black rhino, charging their vehicle,” Morah quipped. “Get your video ready,” Darlene said to me. We ended up catching a glimpse of the rhino on the left side of the narrow road, in the distance, far from charging range.

After the rhino charge, we saw lots of other memorable sights, including two male lions sleeping, one of them stoically accepting the presence of big porcupine quills in his lower jaw and elbow.  They looked up occasionally as if to pose for photos.   Morah summed up the morning and our experience at Tau Game Reserve with this observation:

“The awesomeness doesn’t come to us, it charges us.”

Audio Note: Below you will see my notes and be able to listen to Morah and sounds from yesterday’s game drive, recorded with my Livescribe Echo smartpen.  The way this Livescribe screen works is that you can click to make it full screen, then move the red dot on the notes to the spot you want to listen to, then click once.  This page includes my recording of the previous evening’s game drive. To begin listening to just after the rhino charge, move the red dot to where it says “Black Rhino” in my notes.

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