I’ve ever come in close contact with a white rhinoceros but I’d advise everyone to desist from ever entertaining the romanticised dream of ever being close to a black one.
Generally, white rhinos are harmless and interact with humans freely but black ones are a mean customer. As white rhinos are endangered, I’ve only seen four in a protected sanctuary in Meru Park, northern Kenya. Gentle as they may be, still they, like their black kith, look frightening.
Having had such a brief acquaintance with rhinos, I was captivated by a short story about an encounter filmmaker Kim Wolhuter had with a black one recently, in Malilangwe Game Reserve, South Zimbabwe. He was trying to get a close-up video of the beast and was too close for comfort when it suddenly charged. He quickly ran to get out of its immediate reach but stopped only a short distance away and turned to face it.
The animal stopped, then made a fake charge and stopped again, kicking up a startling ball of dust. But when Wolhuter made a sudden lunge forward and clapped his hands, it took off so fast it must’ve taken him for a deadly hunter.
I’ve known wild animals in my time and I think that was a foolhardy move. When you know you risk a faceoff with a one-tonne monster, scaring it is not a wise gamble to take. But I’m talking for you and myself. Wolhuter is another quantity all together. I’ve seen photos of the man comfortably sitting among a pack of hyenas, as if chatting and playing with a group of curious toddlers, and that’s when I realised he is a different proposition.
He has a way with animals. For, if there is any animal man has failed to tame, that animal is the hyena. The illusive canine is so greedy but so cowardly that at any slight diversion of your attention, it’ll pick your hair and take off with it, if it’s the only thing it’s able to snatch. It’s therefore amazing to see hyenas all round Wolhuter’s back, side and front and not going beyond sniffing at him. You begin to understand what kind of man he is.
He knows something about animals that we don’t. It’s no wonder that he is the fitting man to have been filming for the Discovery Channel show dubbed “Man, Cheetah, Wild”, which premiered last Thursday, 3rd October, in USA. With Rwanda so ICT-wired-up, that show shouldn’t be long in reaching here.
Wolhuter and men and women like him are what Rwanda needs to endear her game parks to her nationals as well as her visitors.
Talking of which, isn’t it a shame that with all the interest the world already has in wild animals, our Akagera National Park is not teeming with animals of all species? Imagine all the nature lovers, tourists, TV and film enthusiasts, plain adventurers, all, if they were to find everything here. Wouldn’t exotic species increase the number of visitors, with their accompanying revenue for the country?
But even before we consider the number of visitors, how many Rwandans have seen the gorillas, lions, leopards, giraffes, elephants, buffalos, zebras, antelopes and all the different animals roaming their parks, except residents of areas adjacent to the parks? If their interest were to be pricked and a minimal fee charged, would that do any harm to the national kitty?
With addition of extra animal species, the range of what’d be available to everybody would be exactly what the economist ordered for resource-strapped Rwanda.
There are volcanic mountains; hills; valleys, lakes and rivers. There are dense rain forests; savannah grasslands; marshlands and swamps. Don’t forget that many visitors have been wowed by our terraces that we see simply in stomach-interest terms. Then there are sundry wild animals, whose number and variety can be boosted with the purchase of more species.
Problem is, who’d sell their animals, apart from those they wish to cull? Unfortunately, those they wish to cull, Rwanda has in plenty. Yet what they don’t have, they won’t part with: rhino, cheetah, okapi, etc, without forgetting the majestic wonder bird, the ostrich. Whatever the case, though, a spirited campaign to procure more animal species is an imperative.
Wohurter’s encounter with a ferocious-looking rhino that nonetheless fears for its life is a lesson to us all. All of us as creatures of this earth, human, animal or otherwise, we crave for care and belong to one another.
It is incumbent upon us as humans to restore to animal species the availability of this land to roam and feed of. We owe it to the animals as selfish humans, thinking only of the revenue we can milk out of them. And conveniently forgetting that there are species we confined to extinction.
The biological animals that we are, we are not superior to game in our parks. Only our heartlessness is superior, if that’s something to boast about!