Today was absolutely incredible! We got up at the butt-crack of dawn for a walking safari. As soon as we got out there, we knew we were in for trouble. It’s like 50 degrees in the mornings here. . . which normally isn’t that bad, but when you are traveling 40 mph propped up in the back of a truck, it gets cold FAST! My face was so numb by the time we got there, but it was well worth the trip.
As we were entering the park, we picked up a ranger to be our tracker and protection. We have two major goals on this trip. First, and most important, find the white rhinos. Second, and almost as important, stay alive. Luckily, the ranger was carrying a very big gun, and he never had to use it. I’d call that a success.
Here’s some info on the park we visited. The national park is called Mosi-Oa-Tunya, “The Smoke that Thunders,” a local name for Victoria falls. It’s called this because the park is in such close proximity to the falls. The park is about 66 square KM (relatively small for a national park) and houses a wide variety of beautiful animals. It’s a unique national park, because it houses a “crush” of southern white rhinos. According to the information they gave us, there are 9 rhinos in the park. The park has a fence around the perimeter for two major purposes. To keep the white rhinos in and to keep poachers out. As many people are aware, wild rhinos are on the heavy decline do to Chinese demand for their horns. This is extremely sad, because there is an ill-conceived notion that the horn contains medicinal properties. In reality, it is just made of the same material as your finger-nails, Keratin. Even though there are plenty of campaigns to convince people that there are no medicinal purposes for the horns, people will still pay 80-120 thousand U.S. dollars per kilo of the horn. Hence why they are savagely sought after by poachers. Even though the rhinos are on 24 hour surveillance, two were killed, stripped of their horns, and abandoned last December. This included the only male that was of breeding age. It’s really tragic, but soon enough, other males will be old enough to start breeding.
Anyway, we drove into the bush a little ways, then we jumped out of the vehicle and began our trek through the bush. I was really surprised, because we didn’t stay on any marked trails. We just traveled around the bushes and trees, making our own path. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable. He gave us fun facts about bugs, trees, animals, animal tracks, animal droppings, rocks, etc. It was a lot of fun. We had no idea that as we were walking, the real highlight of the morning was just around the corner. Only 15 minutes into our walk, the Park Ranger turned to us and asked, “Did you say your prayers today?” We answered yes! Then he said, “You are extremely fortunate.” As we came over the hill, our first rhinos came into view.
Disclaimer: what we saw next was BEYOND exciting, but right after we saw it, our park ranger told us we can’t tell anyone or post anything about the details of it. He explained that if we did, the rhinos would be in great danger due to poachers. So, I will tell you as much as I can without disclosing anything we can’t tell you.
We saw a mother rhino with her 2.5 year-old baby. That’s about as much as I can say. Our guide and the ranger were very thrilled to see them. You know you’ve stumbled upon something cool, when even the guides are taking pictures. When we get back to the states, ask us to tell you about what we saw, and we can show you pictures and tell you more about them. Maybe in time, I will post pictures of what we saw on Facebook.
After that, we walked around for a few more minutes, then jumped back into the truck. As we were leaving the area, we stumbled upon the remaining 7 rhinos. They are their own “crush.” It was so fun to see them, there were one or two pretty young one’s around. They are truly beautiful animals. It really makes me sad that they are in such few numbers these days and that other species of rhinos are almost extinct.
We then had a quick snack break, followed by a game drive down the river. It was really fun, because I found out that another one of the tourists in our group was from Dortmund. One of the areas I served in on my mission. She was shocked. She was like, “Nobody ever goes to Dortmund!” The game drive was awesome. It reminded me a lot of our experience in Chobe. We saw giraffes, baboons, zebras (and even baby zebras), wildebeests, buffaloes, some really beautiful deer that looked like wild dogs, and we got charged by ANOTHER elephant. As we were driving along the main road, we stumbled across a big bull elephant on the side of the road. He was NOT happy to see us. He started making movements toward us, so our driver backed up quickly. Then a smaller female came bursting out of the bushes right toward us. She was shaking her head and making very aggressive motions toward us. Luckily, once she started charging full on, we were far enough away that she gave up. It was really intense. Not as intense as our charging experience in Chobe, but still intense.
We got back to backpackers and payed the tour guides in U.S. dollars. Little did we know how much of an issue that would turn out to be. Apparently, there is a big problem with U.S. dollars in banks here. An hour or two later, our guide showed up again telling us the bank didn’t accept our cash. We were super nervous, because we thought they meant the bank didn’t accept ANY of the cash we gave them. Luckily, there were only a couple of bills that had little nicks in them, and it wasn’t the entire sum they needed new bills for. It was especially frustrating, because we brought that money from a bank in the U.S. and would have been very angry if it was counterfeited.
The rest of the afternoon and evening was really good. We ate delicious burgers made by the cooks here at backpackers, we ate dinner at a great Indian restaurant, and we had some delicious gelato from an Italian restaurant. Lots of great food. We also spent some more time playing ping-pong, watching Ice Age, and packing. It’s so crazy that we are leaving soon! But we’ve had a great time.
Monday we will be off to China.