(Or never make assumptions when there's a horn involved...)
Written by The Good Woman from My Wee Scottish Blog
'Just get out of your car and push him out the way.'
The suggestion may have sounded sensible, if a little aggressive, in a different setting. But we were in the African bush and the 'him' in question a two ton rhinoceros. Neither of my two companions could speak Afrikaans but a quick bit of translation brought them up to speed. Incredulous looks all round.
It sounds like laughable advice, but this nugget came from the gatekeeper at a game reserve. Surely, he knew how best to deal with a stubborn, armoured wild beast? Surely?
We had arrived at the gate a half hour before, around sunset. This same gatekeeper had instructed us to follow the single track to another gate, behind which stood the reception block and the comfort of our overnight accommodation. Not ten metres from this gate we found our rhino. In the half light we assumed he was a statue. But then he turned to get a closer look at us.
For fifteen minutes we watched him from an uncomfortably close proximity. We watched the moonlight reflect off his hide and took turns guessing the length of his horn (anything from 85cms to a meter by our expert reckoning). We named him 'Long Prong Silver'. And then we got bored.
Conventional wisdom, in dealing with rhinos, is to keep very still. Their eyesight is poor and, usually, they have a short attention span. If you don't move, they can't see you and will move away. This one had clearly not read the Behaviour Guide to African Mammals. So very slowly and steadily I began reversing back up the track, planning to enlist help from the gatekeeper.
'Okay, if you're too scared to touch him just throw a few stones at him. He'll move off.'
I was beginning to think that I would have got better advice had I just spoken to the Rhino directly.
'Just get him to radio the lodge!'
'The radio. He is brokened!' came the African English reply.
Fully anticipating a lengthy night time vigil in the bush, we made our way back down the track.
He was still there when we got back, but something in the air must have caught his attention and, after a few minutes, he trundled off. We snuck though the gate in the darkness and, on finding reception closed for the night, went to find the manager's house.
Just in front of her garden gate was a Blesbok, a small, goat-like antelope who seemed to be welcoming us to her home. The man in our party gallantly held it by the horns as we darted past to the front door.
The manager was relieved to see us. She'd been worried that we'd lost our way. We explained our problem with the rhino.
'That's Spike.' she chuckled. 'He's tame. Orphaned as a youngster, he grew up playing with my oldest son.'
We laughed. She laughed. Of course, I thought, I still don't see myself cuddling a rhino any time soon....
'Let's show you to your room.' she said, grabbing an umbrella.
'You really don't need that,' I pointed out. 'There's not a cloud in the sky'.
She glanced up into the star-washed darkness. 'I know. I need it in case we run into Headbutt. He's this Blesbok that managed to get into the enclosure and keeps attacking the guests...'
The Good Woman is a South African expat wife, now living in