One Horn, Two

Nancy McAtavey

© Copyright 2022 by Nancy McAtavey

Photo courtesy of the author.
Photo courtesy of the author..

Sabi Sands Game Reserve- South Africa-

The six of us silently file from the lodge to the parking lot where the three Land Rovers are lined up, their headlights cutting through the 5:30 a.m. darkness.

Good morning,” Arman, our guide says. Jim and I settle into the seat directly in back of the driver, at ground level. Up close and personal, as the saying goes, to the landscape and its inhabitants. Is that a good or bad thing, I wonder. Arman starts the motor and we slowly creep across the gravel parking lot to the road.

An hour later, the rays of the rising sun flick through the trees. It’s warmer and we can see further up the road and across the short brush. Bushbucks graze on the side of the road. They raise their heads to look at us and then return to eating. Birds fly high and low through the overgrowth, their voices the music of the morning.

We approach the river and pause briefly before crossing the trickle of water left over from the spring rains. The Land Rover rumbles up the riverbed’s incline, takes a quick left and then a right. Arman adjusts his ear piece and shakes his head as he turns the dial again and again.
There’s not much talk on the radio this morning. Very quiet. Very unusual,”he observes .

As we drive further into the bush, the road narrows. Sydney points to an overhanging limb, holds unto his baseball cap and ducks his head. We follow his example and do the same. Arman makes a sharp turn onto a path barely the width of the vehicle. And suddenly his foot hits the brake. There in the middle of the road are two rhinos stretched in front of us. Lying down. Eyes closed. Asleep.

Oh my God, “ I murmured. “I can’t believe this.”

On our previous safari at Londolozi Game Reserve, I had seen four of the Big Five- the lion, elephant, Cape buffalo and leopard. But I had missed the safari the morning when my group found their first rhino. So while my husband had his Big Five, I was still missing the fifth check on my safari bucket list. And now here were two, lying across the road, blocking our way.

Well, well,” Arman whispered. “What do we have here? These are BIG boys, very big boys.”
They are big, gray, thick-skinned and apparently sleeping in on this early morning .Their massive heads rest on the ground. And we are all focused on those two horns protruding just about their toothless square mouthes, right between their bulging eyes.

Arman turns off the ignition. We are all silent, our eyes glued to these snoozing mammals, second in size only to the elephant. A rustle in the deep brush sends squaking birds into the air. The rhino on the left opens one eye, then another. “They are known for their poor vision, as being nearsighted beasts who can barely see beyond 90 feet,” Arman says. “But they do, however, have a powerful sense of smell and hearing.” And we are directly in front of them, I think out loud. The animal on the right continues to doze, not making a sound or a movement. But the rhino on the left slowly uses his powerful legs to push himself up onto all fours. He turns his head toward his sleeping companion and then looks to the left. Then his gaze returns to the center and is directly on us. Eye contact, I think, before the charge? He takes a step forward. Then another. Arman and Sydney exchange glances. Sydney nods his head to the left, toward the thick brush. He seems to be saying that if we can’t get past them, we’ll have to go around them.

Arman starts the jeep. Up back on the third seat, David’s camera stops clicking and his wife , Helen, stops talking. . And the young newly-weds, directly behind me, seem to have stopped breathing.

Arman edges the vehicle several feet backwards; he reaches for his rifle on the dashboard and clicks off the safety. He shifts into first and heads off road into the heavy brush. Sydney protects his face with one arm and uses his outside arm to move branches aside. We are no longer in front of the two rhinos; we are beside them. Arman must think that’s an okay place to be because he stops the jeep. The rhino’s head follows in our direction and his big thick leg makes another step forward.

Hold on, “ Arman says. He puts the jeep in gear and we jostle and bump our way past the two animals. Sydney points ahead to a small clearing. The Land Rover’s wheels are back on the dirt road and we are in traveling mode. Arman drives with both hands on the wheel while Sydney looks backwards. The sleeping rhino is now awake and standing up. We are all holding our breath as the two of them lumber across the road and disappear. Sydney raises his right arm, as if to tell Arman that everything is okay.

We travel on in silence for several minutes and then Arman stops the vehicle. “Well, I am very glad that we got to see those big boys, yes?”

We are all nodding our heads, like safari bobbleheads that you might find in a tourist gift shop. We all blurt out “yes” at the same time. Arman turns and gives us a rare smile. “They are one of the most dangerous animals that you will find anywhere.So sometimes if they detect an unfamiliar scent or hear an odd sound, they will charge. But do not worry. They know our vehicles, our sounds.”

Hmmm. We all look at each other.

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