We could see some movement in a waterhole up ahead, slightly obscured by a large bush. At first tracker Judas and I thought it was a buffalo wallowing. We drove around the side of the bush to get a closer look. Then, crashing out of the waterhole with mud spraying everywhere, giving us the fright of our lives, came two huge rhino bulls charging straight toward us. However they had no intent on doing us any harm – they just hadn’t seen us yet. The slightly larger bull was chasing the smaller one. We found ourselves caught up in the crossfire of an age-old battle between two of nature’s giants.
With me trying to manoeuvre the vehicle out of harm’s way and Judas directing, the rhinos heard us and then thankfully saw us and diverted, peeling off into the bush. After a brief cat-and-mouse chase they returned to the waterhole to continue the fight.
We stayed for the next hour watching this stop-start sparring match. At times it became quite brutal with the larger bull clearly having the advantage. We could see that the battle was already well underway by the obvious cuts and scratches leaking blood, mostly from the facial region and rear ends. We saw why these were the areas most badly affected areas. Face to face, a few inches apart, the rhinos would be staring each other down, breathing heavily. Then the intensity of the fight would reach a breaking point. The bulls would start making a squealing sound until it got so intense that a fight would erupt with horns clashing. As one would overpower the other, the overwhelmed rhino would turn to back away and in doing so, receive some heavy blows to the rear end.
After witnessing this epic battle, Judas relayed a story of how he had witnessed one bull kill another. In the heat of battle the victor had delivered a fatal blow by spearing the opponent in the chest with one powerful swing of the nose as the soon-to-be-deceased was turning away after being forced to break ground. In a low voice Judas told us how it was not an easy thing to witness a giant two-ton animal’s life slowly end.
What interested me about this sighting was the arena where it took place: a waterhole. Rhinos are highly water-dependent animals, enjoying a drink at least once a day. The bulls are known to set up their territories bordering waterholes as they are a sought after commodity, sharing the water resource with other bulls. If one had to outline the territories of rhinos around a waterhole, it may look a little like a flower, with the centre of the flower representing the waterhole and the petals representing the territories. Although fiercely territorial, the bulls usually tolerate each other in the overlapping no-man’s land surrounding the waterhole, as long as no females are at stake.
The reason for this fight I would put down to two scenarios. Either these were two bulls that had met in no-man’s land and a skirmish ensued by chance or it was a younger bull that was challenging the older, established bull for his territory. Dominant bulls will only tolerate young bulls in their territories that act submissively.
It was a remarkable battle to witness and I felt the whole vehicle wince as each blow was delivered. Fortunately, after some fighting, both individuals moved off from the waterhole in different directions. I could see Judas was relieved that he would not witness another fatal battle!