When I went to Africa it was the realisation of a long-held dream to see magnificent African wildlife in the midst of magnificent African landscapes. I wanted to see the BIG FIVE, most especially lions, leopards and elephants. I couldn’t quite understand why buffalo and rhinoceros were on the list, but hey I was happy to tick them off if the opportunity arose.
During my three-month-long travels around Southern Africa in 2003 I visited many wildlife parks and the reality of seeing African animals in Africa didn’t just reflect my travel dream, it exceeded my wildest expectations.
My first experience of African wildlife was in Pilanesburg National Park in South Africa. Most people think of Kruger when they think of going on safari in South Africa but Pilanesburg is a great alternative if you are short on time or prefer to stay in malaria-free zones. Only a few hours’ drive from Johannesburg, this wildlife sanctuary has an amazing diversity of species with over 50 large mammals, including the Big Five.
Set between the Kalahari and the Lowveld, Pilanesberg landscapes are very photogenic. Very soon after starting my first safari drive ever – there was a lion lounging about in the undergrowth. I was underwhelmed. To be honest it was a bit dull. It looked scruffy and it was just lying there. But a little further along the track a rhino wandered out across the grass. Then her youngster followed. They grazed peacefully; nuzzled each other. It was my first Africa ‘wow’ moment.
The statistics about rhino deaths due to poaching in South Africa are horrifying but Pilanesberg is one of the few places in the whole continent where you can easily spot both black and white rhinos. In a short space of time I had lost count of these beautiful creatures and it was also encouraging to see the anti-poaching unit working in the park – checking visitor vehicles.
Next stop on my independent travels around southern Africa was the tiny state of Swaziland. It was a long day-and-a-half of travelling to get there from Pretoria and I was tired when I arrived at Hlane National Park. Hlane is famous for its cheetahs but my first wildlife spotting was as magical as it was unexpected. Walking out onto a terrace I was thrilled to see a herd of giraffes go rocking by through the trees. If you have ever seen a giraffe ‘run’ you will know it is a unique motion! A moment later a rhinoceros came trotting through the trees into the clearing – about 100 metres away from where I was standing – only to be met by another rhino coming in the opposite direction. They postured and snorted at one another and I thought it might get ugly. But no, one rhino backed down and they both moved off peaceably. I have no photo to record that moment of interaction and compromise but it is one burnt into my memory forever.
Then I headed up through the centre to Botswana, which is one of the most stable nations in the whole of Africa so it is probably not surprising that Botswana now has some of the lowest poaching rates in Africa. The Botswana Defence Force and Wildlife Department have trained a hand-picked, specialist anti-poaching team dubbed the “Tusk Force” and they are having great success protecting the re-introduced rhino population in Botswana. When I visited in 2003 it was a very different story, with Black Rhino considered extinct and only a few White Rhino left. I certainly never saw even one during my time travelling through the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park.
Etosha National Park is vast – 22,750 square kilometres of varying ecosystems from salt pans to savannahs. It is a particularly good place for independent travellers as you can camp in one of the three fenced campgrounds and self-drive safari to your hearts’ content. The campgrounds even have waterholes with safe viewing areas so you can watch the sunset and the animals after dark. Etosha has nearly 150 mammal species, including rare and endangered species such as the Black Rhino, Black-faced Impala, Tsessebe and Gemsbok. You have a good chance of seeing the endangered black rhino in Etosha and I saw just two at a crowded waterhole.
The #JustOneRhino campaign
So there are my top places to see rhinos in southern Africa, with a few of my favourite photos, to inspire you to travel there to see them for yourself. But that was 2003. Today the news about rhinos in Africa is heartbreaking. Poaching has skyrocketed – more than 1,020 animals were killed in 2014 (according to the South Africa Department of Environmental Affairs).
Africa’s wild rhinos need our help. That’s why I am supporting the #JustOneRhino campaign to save them from extinction. My friends over at Green Travel Media and the Travelers Building Change non-profit organisation launched this fundraising campaign in December (it runs until March 1st 2015), raising money to benefit the Rhinos Without Borders project.
Rhinos Without Borders aims to save rhinos by translocating 100 rhinos from South Africa to Botswana, which as I mentioned above has had great success in protecting its rhinos. Dereck and Beverly Joubert are the acclaimed wildlife photographers/filmmakers whose vision is behind this project. They are currently National Geographic Explorers in Residence.
The cost of moving 100 rhinos is up around the $5 million mark but this group of travel bloggers are aiming to raise $45,000, which is the cost of moving #JustOneRhino. Funds raised will also go to support the ‘Tusk Force’ anti-poaching team in Botswana and to help this success story to be recreated in other African countries. I am excited to think that next time I travel in Botswana, I will be able to see rhino again!
Save Rhinos and Win Prizes!
Loads of very generous sponsors have got behind this campaign and are offering prizes to people who make a donation. So please head on over to Travelers Building Change to choose the top three prizes you’d like to win, and make a donation to help save rhinos today.
Major prizes include a South Africa Big Five Safari Tour for two from Adventure Life, 10 Nights at Yemaya Island Hideaway & Spa (Little Corn Island, Nicaragua), a 10-day Galapagos Voyage for one from International Expeditions, 7 Nights at the Cobblers Cove Hotel (Barbados), and one of 5 Getaways for Two in Asia from Secret Retreats.
I just can’t bear to think of returning to an Africa without rhinos.
By Natasha von Geldern