A Near-Death Rhino Encounter on New Year’s Eve

December 31, 2012: The day I nearly lost my life to a pair of German-speaking rhinoceros. (Rhinoceroses? Rhino? Rhinoceri? Thoughts welcome.)

gretel instagram

Gretel, the German lady rhinoceros.

Okay, the statement above could be a slight exaggeration. I’m not sure though. I’ll tell the story and let you decide.

Michelle and I spent our last two days in Namibia at the Waterberg Wilderness Nature Reserve. We stayed in the Waterberg Wilderness Lodge and had a lovely time overall. (I’ll tell you more about the Waterberg in the next post. I’m recounting my Namibia adventures in reverse chronological order.)

We debated about whether or not to go on the evening game drive offered by the lodge. The cost of the game drive was not included in our booking and we had already done a lot of game-viewing in Etosha National Park. (I’ll tell you about Etosha in a future post.) But the Waterberg has a special rhino conservation programme and we hadn’t seen a rhino in Etosha. We were told that we would almost definitely see rhino on the Waterberg game drive. What the heck, we decided. After all, it was New Year’s Eve.

As I walked to the safari vehicle, a staff member stopped me. “You should change into safety shoes,” he sad. “Safety shoes?” I looked down at my sandals. “Oh. Okay.” I changed into hiking boots.

The game drive began uneventfully. Our driver’s name was Hingire, and he was accompanied by an unnamed assistant. Passengers included Michelle, me, and a German husband-wife duo, Andries and Anja. There was another Jeep behind us, occupied by a Belgian family and a couple more Germans. We took off down the muddy track.

We saw several interesting animals at the beginning of the drive, but Hingire was not interested. “Warthog!” Michelle cried. (Michelle loves warthogs.) Hingire barely stopped and continued chatting to the unnamed assistant. We came upon a beautiful antelope in a clearing. “Oryx,” said Hingire disconsolately, but kept driving. “Wait! There is a huge bird on that tree,” I yelled. Hingire didn’t seem to hear. After insistent urging, he stopped and backed up. The bird was flying away. “That was a snake eagle,” Hingire announced. I pouted.

warthogs

Brief glimpse of a warthog family.

baby tortoise

Hingire realized we were hacked off about the snake eagle thing, so he stopped to show us this baby tortoise. Cute, but too little too late. He also showed us a termite mound and an irrigation canal that runs from Tsumeb to Windhoek. Snore.

We eventually accepted that this game drive was for rhino(ceri)-viewing only. Other interesting sights were to be admired briefly, usually from a distance and with minimal explanation.

We drove around for an hour or so. Hingire’s two-way radio blared, theoretically with updates on where the rhino were. Michelle commented that any reasonable animal would run like hell from that radio.

We stopped in a clearing. “We’ll take a short break,” said Hingire. We disembarked and had a drink, making small talk with the Germans. “How many rhinos live in the reserve?” I asked Hingire. “Two,” he said. Oh. I had envisioned a herd.

We finished our drinks and looked at Hingire expectantly. “Okay, we’ll go now,” he said.

We drove on. It was feeling less and less likely that we would see a rhino. “Oh well,” I said “Rhinos don’t really do much anyway…”

We rounded a bend and there they were.

1rhino sighting

Rhino(ceri).

A wave of excitement washed over the Jeep. Not one rhino, but both! A boy-girl pair of white rhino(ceri).

The rhino(ceri) approached the vehicle. They were quite frisky compared to other rhinos I’ve seen. “Nashorn!” called Hingire. We later learned from Andries and Anja that nashorn is the German word for rhinoceros.

The male rhino walked up to the Jeep and brushed his big snout against it. “Nein!” Hingire commanded when the rhino got too close. Apparently the rhino(ceri) speak German, which I think is awesome. Michelle and I named them Hansel and Gretel.

2rhino approaching

Hansel approaches.

3rhino ears

He’s still coming.

4rhino iPad-gramming

The greatest iPad-gramming photo of all time. Courtesy of Michelle Stern.

5rhino-gram

The Instagram I was shooting above. Nein, Hansel. Nein!

6rhino next to truck

Nein.

I turned to Michelle. “You know, they could roll this truck right over if they wanted to.” We laughed nervously and kept shooting.

7rhino behind truck

Well hello there, Mr. Rhinoceros. (Nervous laughter.)

Hansel and Gretel grew bored and wandered off into the bush.

“We will go for a short walk while we wait for the other car,” said Hingire. The four of us looked at each other and shrugged. We were all on a rhinoceri-high. We got out and followed Hingire, vaguely in the direction the rhinos had gone. Hingire carried a small stick.

We were about 50 meters from the Jeep when Hansel and Gretel turned around.

Hingire faced us, back to the rhino(ceri), and happily spouted rhino facts. A rhino weighs about three and a half tons, he told us. They can run up to 40 kilometers an hour. Michelle, Andries, Anja and I digested this information as the three-ton animals slowly approached. Hingire said something to the unnamed assistant, who walked away and stood several meters between us and the Jeep. A diversion?

“Uh, are you sure this is safe?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” said Hingire. “It’s fine. The other Jeep is coming soon and then we will go.”

I looked around. No sign of the other Jeep. And besides, when our Jeep arrived Hansel and Gretel walked right up and rubbed against it.

I eyed the distance between the rhino(ceri) and us, which was steadily diminishing, and the distance between us and the Jeep. The odds were not favorable. I was suddenly glad for my “safety shoes”, although not even the best pair of Merrells can outrun a rhino.

Hansel and Gretel grew closer. Hansel was in the lead.

Michelle turned to me. “It’s been wonderful being your friend,” she said.

“Don’t worry,” Hingire assured us. “They will get me first!”

Right about then, Gretel turned and walked the other way. Hansel followed her. “We’re safe now,” said Hingire. “He will follow his wife.” We all scowled at Hingire, still afraid to move.

Heather scared

This is a very unflattering photo. But I’m using it anyway, for the sake of the blog. I hope you all appreciate it. Thank you, Michelle, for capturing the moment so accurately. (Photo: Michelle Stern)

The other Jeep arrived, Belgian and German passengers peering at Hansel and Gretel from behind their camera lenses. I thought about flinging myself aboard but all the seats were full. The four of us crept back to our own vehicle, with Hingire and the unnamed friend behind us. We made it.

We were back at the lodge in time for a New Year’s Eve dinner of oryx fillet, stuffed peppers and rice.

new years dinner

Oryx meat is popular in Namibia. Very tasty although this particular serving was dry.

Michelle, Andries, Anja and I recounted our experience over dinner. Michelle decided that Hansel and Gretel are completely tame, that they do this on every game drive, and Hingire knew all along that we were in no danger. I maintain that we survived a brush with death. Thoughts?

We were asleep long before midnight, dreaming of rhinoceri.

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12 Comments

  • Reply Gail Wilson January 7, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    I can fully understand, encountered a similar experience in Zimbabwe with a herd of elephants. Sounds like you had a fantastic trip.

  • Reply tenneymason January 8, 2013 at 2:54 am

    Kinda reminds me of the lion in the kitchen episode I had while working for the Sykesville Herald. Nice lion…pretty lion…now get back in the basement please. Even in Sykesville, there are wild game stories. If you don’t remember I’ll fill you in next time we skype.

    • Reply 2summers January 8, 2013 at 7:50 am

      I remember the Sykesville lion story! Let’s skype soon.

  • Reply [email protected] January 8, 2013 at 7:14 am

    Nice story! I’m wondering if the two rhinos/rhinoceroses/rhinoceri (all are acceptable so take your pick) are tame – as in hand-reared? Just the fact that they come running to the vehicle and that Hingire thought it safe to follow them.

    • Reply 2summers January 8, 2013 at 7:49 am

      Lisa, this is also what Michelle was wondering. Unfortunately none of us thought to ask at that time. They certainly appear to be living “wild” now, but who knows? I did a quick Google search and couldn’t find anything.

      I’m going to stick to my near-death story anyway though 🙂

  • Reply [email protected] January 8, 2013 at 7:59 am

    Definitely – they could have squashed you just giving you a friendly lean! 😉

    • Reply 2summers January 8, 2013 at 8:03 am

      I know, that’s exactly what I thought!

  • Reply eremophila January 8, 2013 at 10:19 am

    Never ever trust them. I would never trust a beef bull even if it was hand reared – so I agree, it was a near-death story! Beware of future game park drivers too 🙂

    • Reply 2summers January 8, 2013 at 10:44 am

      Yep. Never again will I blithely climb out of a safari vehicle with a guide armed with a twig.

  • Reply clouded marbles January 10, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    Oh, I loved this story! Had a good chuckle – no offense 🙂

    • Reply 2summers January 10, 2013 at 4:40 pm

      No offense taken! Glad you enjoyed it 🙂

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