Two thousand seven hundred and seven.
That’s how many days it’s taken me to see my first black rhino at Londolozi.
It took only 1068 days until I saw my first Pangolin – considered by many in South African wildlife circles to be the holy grail of sightings – which gives you an idea of just how special this rhino sighting was.
Black rhino do get seen here, but incredibly infrequently. I can count the number of sightings since I’ve been here on the fingers of two hands. Technically I’ve seen a bit of one, but he/it had been killed and half eaten by the Mhangeni pride, so that doesn’t count. A similar state of affairs to the nocturnal Aardvark which continues to elude me; I’ve seen one eaten and half consumed by a leopard, but again, it doesn’t count.
I digress. Back to the rhino.
Whilst the white rhino population here is healthy, as they have access to extensive areas of the grassland and clearings that they prefer, the habitat of Londolozi is simply unsuitable for the black version. I suppose unfavourable would be a better word than unsuitable, but the fact remains that there just aren’t enough euphorbias and Tamboti stands, or extensive thorny thickets – among their main sources of food (black rhinos are browsers, white rhinos are grazers) – to keep a population of the creatures happy.
Further south in the Sabi Sand Reserve, black rhino are encountered fairly regularly, but a distance of only 20km or so can make a huge difference in habitat, and south of our boundary is where the black rhino line effectively ends. So what was this one doing so far from its usual haunts? Hard to say.
Andrea Sithole found it in the middle of the grasslands, but as it was skittish and running before he had a chance to get a good look at it, he didn’t manage to sex it. Neither did we when we arrived about 20 minutes later, as the creature was far from us and initially nervous. Then once it relaxed it was in a dense stand of russet bushwillows, so we were unable to get a clear view. We could see blood at the base of its horn, which suggested it had been fighting and therefore most likely a male, possibly ousted from a territory and looking for a new one, but to be honest, we were too excited about simply seeing the species in the flesh to be worried about whether it was a male or a female.
A number of rangers headed into the area that afternoon to try and find it, but it had gone. Maybe it’ll turn up in the next day or two, but my guess is that it has retreated back to where it can have access to a ready food supply and find more of its own kind.
I just hope its not another 2700 days before the next one happens along.