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We Went for the Elephants, We Stayed for the Rhino

We pulled up to the entrance of Lusaka National Park with simple expectations. I'd read that there was an elephant orphanage inside the park, and the idea of baby elephants drew me in like a magnet. But as we disembarked from the van the man at the entrance booth asked us if we'd like to add a safari to our itinerary. Safari? That wasn't on the website! He told us they had two white rhinos that had just recently arrived, and if we went on the safari we would be able to see the 9 year old, 5,000+ lb male. That was an easy sell and soon we were gathered with other visitors waiting for the safari truck to pick us up.

The Lusaka National Park is the newest and smallest of Zambia's 20 National Parks. The park is home to over 22 species, including more than 50 species of birds, several types of antelopes, giraffes, zebras, and so much more. Within the past few weeks two white rhinos, a male and female, had arrived. Both animals were protected around the clock by park rangers.

Monument to fallen park rangers

Our park experience started with an introductory talk in front of the monument commemorating park rangers lost during duty. Park rangers face many dangers, including poachers, venomous snakes, and even attacks by the very animals they have sworn to protect.

Soon the large safari truck pulled up and we climbed in (literally climbed, the vehicle had a single ladder to access the 3 rows of seats high above the ground). There were 9 of us all together, and off we went down dusty roads. I stared intently into the tall grasses and forest of unfamiliar trees, looking for movement and signs of wildlife. As we drove past an open area of grasslands I called out "Wait! There's something there!". The truck slowed to a stop and we could see a set of horns far in the distance peeking above the brown grasses. They moved behind a bush and the truck began to slowly move forward again. Suddenly a group of impalas shot out from behind the bush, leaping high into the air with each step, quick and graceful and absolutely beautiful.

We wound our way down more rocky and rugged paths until we pulled up next to a man with a very large gun slung casually over his shoulder. We stopped and the man said "Come on, I'll take you to the rhino". Wait, we're actually getting OUT OF THE TRUCK to see him? We climbed down and followed him through the brush, wondering what we had gotten ourselves into.

Seemingly out of nowhere a park ranger appeared and began to tell us about Fwanya, the naughty one. As he was talking I could see a large leaf blowing in the breeze against a rock in the distance. It soon dawned on me that the ranger was describing the rhino as if he was in front of us, so I asked "where is he?". "Right there" he said. That rock I'd been staring at was the body of the rhino, and the large leaf was actually his ear intently honing in on our quiet conversation. He was laying quietly under a tree enjoying the shade. The ranger led us a little farther and then onto a small rock outcropping, where we stopped to admire the resting rhino. Suddenly he got to his feet, looking towards us.

I stayed close to the ranger, atop the highest point on the rocks, while others stood in front of us, snapping photos of the majestic creature. Fwanya inspected us for a while, decided we were not a threat, and laid back down for his afternoon siesta.

Because of the value of the white rhino's horns, and because Fwanya had been quite the fighter in his previous habitat, the park had filed down his horn, making him (hopefully) less appealing to poachers and less dangerous to his fellow rhinos. We had little chance of seeing the 6 year old female rhino, who was very shy of people and still adapting to her new home.

We made our way back to our truck, now full of wonder and awe for what we had just witnessed. We climbed back into the truck like kindergartners on monkey bars and soon were off again, making our way to our original destination - the elephant orphanage (post coming soon).

In my time I've worked at 2 different zoos and seen many amazing animals, some even from behind the scenes. But seeing a wild rhino in it's own natural habitat was nothing like animals in a zoo. I felt like I had slipped into a story, where majestic animals roam amid wild forests and dry grasses. A scene we find on our TV scenes and in our dreams. But this is Africa, this is Zambia, and there are still more stories to tell.

1 comentario

Don Hazelwood
Don Hazelwood
5 days ago

so freaking cool ...

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