So here it was, the end of the fourth day, and we had been on the search for a Black Rhino since daybreak. Due to the restrictions of the Namibian government, no vehicles were allowed to travel before sunrise or after sunset due to safety concerns and probably the fact that most nefarious activities occur at night. At this point we knew that we only had about an hour left before we had to start heading back to where we would make camp that night. As we were heading West, towards the direction of the camp, we spot a large moving object about 30 meters from the road. Sure enough, it was a Black Rhino and her calf. And of course, by this point they were high-tailing it away from us. The noise of the V8 diesel Land Cruiser I'm sure startled them. As I got my first few shots of them from the rapidly slowing vehicle I was thrilled to even catch a glimpse of them. Ten days in Namibia was all I had for this endeavor and I knew that chances were slim of seeing a Black Rhino, yet alone capturing some decent photos of one.
As they ran off we waited for a few minutes and could see the brush moving in the distance. We knew that they were out there but from where we were positioned there surely wouldn't be any decent angles to see them. As we were giving up, we headed back West with the intent of making it to camp by nightfall. Thats when we spotted a trail that veered off just to the North. We had a bit of time to spare, though not much, so we thought, "What the heck" and decided to take the trail for a few minutes to see where it might lead.
As we were driving down the trail we kept our speed down and made sure to be as quiet as possible, though with a diesel truck that's nearly impossible. Just then we come around the bend and low and behold, a Black Rhino and her calf. We were stunned, the fact that the trail led right to them and then add the fact that they weren't startled by our truck just blew me away. As my brain was trying to comprehend the fact that we were only a few meters away from this giant animal, I'm desperately trying to gather my camera to take a few photos of them before they run off. Toby, the last remaining member of the crew never even turned off the motor. He said, " I'm keeping it in gear in case she charges!", he was always the more safety concerned of the two of us. As I'm trying to get a clear shot with my 70-200mm lens it seemed that every little twig and branch was in the way. As a photographer, there's always this disconnect between what you see through the lens and what's actually going on, so in my brain the only logical thing to do was get out of the truck.
As I set the GoPro to record, because if you're gonna stand 10 meters from a Black Rhino with nothing in between you it should probably get captured on video, I start doing my best Steve Irwin and trying to narrate what's going on. Finally I get to a point where I figure that I could make it back to the truck before she could work up the speed to get to me first. Though with my limited knowledge of a Rhino's 0-60 speed I could have been very wrong.
As I'm snapping photos quicker than my camera can process them, my hearts pounding and all I could think to myself is that I wish the mother and calf would switch places, cause that would be so much better of a photo. The entire time that I'm standing there the mother rhino only looks up at me once. I guess I'm not that threatening to a rhino that's over 100 times my body weight. I could have stayed there for hours just watching them, but Toby hollered out the window, "Hey, we gotta go. It's getting dark." He was right and I made my way back to the truck, very very slowly. As we backed out of the trail I couldn't believe the encounter I just had. It was definitely the highlight of the day, if not the trip. It was amazing being that close to an animal that in the near future may not even be around for my kids to see. They say that in the 1990's there were only 2300 or so left, though now through conservation efforts there's around 5000 remaining in the wild. I feel pretty lucky to have spent a short time with them and to be so close, and the photos from that experience are going to be something I hold near and dear for very a long time.