Just South African Stories: Black Rhino

After our visit with one lion, two lionesses and several scattered bones, Dixon drove off down the red dirt road, heading back to the lodge and our waiting vehicles. It was the last drive, our last morning in Kruger. I couldn’t imagine a sighting for our last day that would top that one.

I was wrong.

On our way back to the lodge, a large animal stood in the road – I could see it was a rhino, and as we had seen numbers of white rhinos, the most populous in the park and in Africa, this kind of sighting was becoming almost commonplace.

But Dixon stopped the Land Cruiser roughly fifty yards from the beast. “Get out your cameras,” he said. “This is a black rhino.”

Diceros bicornis is not black; like the white rhino, these guys are steel gray and in Kruger, generally dusted red from wallows in the red soil. The white rhino, Ceratotherium simum is populous in Southern Africa. (Sadly, you no doubt heard about the death of the last northern white Rhino in the Sudan last month). This animal is commonly called the white rhino because of a misunderstanding of the Afrikaans word wyd—translation: “wide”. The principle difference between the two species besides size—the black is smaller than the white—is the shape of their lips. Another way they are described is the “square-lipped” rhinoceros (white) and as the “hook-lipped” rhinoceros (black).

Square-lipped rhino (White)

Hook-lipped rhino (Black)

Dixon was readily able to identify our wary beast as a black rhino because of his size and the shape of his mouth.

The black rhino came far closer to extinction than the white, and 3 of the eight sub-species are gone. However through protection and breeding, the black rhino has been re-introduced into a number of sub-Saharan nations, including South Africa. The guy who was carefully sizing us up one of these.

Dixon described the rhino to us, his voice hushed. I think he too was respectfully awed. I’ve used the word “honored” before in describing how I felt when catching a glimpse of these fabled animals in the wild. I almost want to say thank you to them. Thank you for allowing me to see you.

The rhino moved off the road to our left, and doubled back through the bush to get closer to us. Dixon wasted no time in informing us of how fearless the black rhino is; how fierce and aggressive. The rhino paced on our left, perhaps gauging whether his attack would be more successful from our flank rather than head-on.

He stood staring at us, and lowered his head, which I thought could be a chilling precursor to a headlong rush. In response, Dixon revved the engine, and the rhino turned away, but after a few seconds, reversed himself and approached again.

My video of this encounter, available here  Black Rhino – Kruger National Park  shows the rhino’s hesitation but stubborn persistence in letting us know he was ready for a fight.

His charging speed could be as high as 34 miles per hour. It would only take him seconds to cover the thirty or so yards between us.

Finally, Dixon recognized that he had a chance to move on, and slowly moved the Land Cruiser away. It was time for us to return, race to our rooms, hurriedly pack, check out, and get into the cars waiting to take us to our next stop.

I said thank you to that black rhino. He indeed honored me.

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About Jill Zeller

The author of numerous short stories and novels, Jill Zeller lives near Seattle, Washington, with her patient and adoring husband, two English mastiffs, and one self-centered tuxedo cat. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination were as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Maybe it is because she was raised as a Christian Scientist. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison

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