Friday, 14 September 2012

Riding with rhinos ~

Of all the amazing things it is possible to do on this planet, riding with rhino has to be one of the most exciting. Marnie Steffny has just written with news of the recent sightings that Sarah-Jane has been having in Namibia.

“We couldn’t believe our luck.  Out on the rocky plains of Damaraland stood the most endangered of Africa’s Big Five, ears flicking and head raised in typical short-sighted stance.  SJ’s daughter, Zoe, 11, was the first to spot it.  At a safe distance, we sat quietly on our horses, ready to gallop away in an instant.  SJ speaks softly about why this is such an incredible sight.  “Each time we do this ride we find their tracks.  To see a black rhino anywhere is a huge achievement, but to do so on horseback is something that few will ever experience.”  As the sheer enormity of our good fortune sinks in, we’re rather glad that our horses are literally taking things in their stride.
"We gave him a wide berth, as black rhinos are unpredictable and very curious, with notoriously bad eyesight.  If we’d needed to gallop out of danger over such rocky ground, the horses would’ve had difficulty – fortunately we had enough distance between us, and both horses and rhino stood their ground.  Then he caught our scent and crashed towards us like an army tank, covering about forty metres in a matter of seconds before calling off the charge.  This individual is usually relaxed in the presence of game viewing vehicles, but a combination of horses and humans would have been new to him."

"Another highlight of our ride was an encounter with a herd of elephants as they crossed the plains ahead of us, returning from water to browse.  Young bulls, protective cows, and tiny calves in procession had the tips of our horses’ ears almost touching, and when an elephant spun face-on with a volley of head-shaking, the wind changed direction and carried the scent of the herd towards us.  This proved too much for one mount, who sped off in the opposite direction.  At times like this, it’s absolutely clear why these rides are only suitable for very experienced riders!
"Namibia’s Damaraland region is a unique ecosystem, and supports a staggering variety of desert-adapted creatures, both large and small.  We were fortunate to get to the heart of the action on horseback - and delighted that photographer Torleif Svensson was with us to capture these remarkable images.

I rode across the Namib Desert some time ago, drawing up this map of the 400 kilometer ride as well as the Damaraland Trail that goes through black rhino country further north. It was here that I once went tracking with Save the Rhino Trust (see previous posting).  
Reit Safaris simply means Riding Safaris in German. Sarah-Jane Gullick, who I first worked for as a guide in South Africa twenty years ago, now runs the Namibia Horse Safari Company, leading the most exilerating rides across the vast wilderness areas of south-west Africa. Some rate her rides as the toughest and most challenging in the world. As she says,  'there’s little to beat the freedom and thrill of covering distances at a good gallop.'  
To read Marnie's full story please click here

Sophie Neville riding with the calmer white rhino in S.Africa

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