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SOS Rhino : In the News : Archived News : December 2000 : A trip along the Zambezi River offers glimpse of endangered black rhino

A trip along the Zambezi River offers glimpse of endangered black rhino

By Henry Hill
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
December 11, 2000

LAKE KARIBA, ZIMBABWE - My adrenaline was still flowing from the spectacular sunrise as I watched the light stain the horizon, as if a lion had bitten the sky. As the light danced across the surface of Lake Kariba, I overdosed on the musical sounds of the bush. The grunts of a male lion, the cackles and whoops of a hyena and the screech of a fish eagle, all told me that I really was in Zimbabwe, Africa.

Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in south-central Africa, and it is about the size of California. Two rivers form its northern and southern borders; the great Zambezi River runs along its northern frontier to form the border with Zambia, while the more sluggish Limpopo River forms the southern border with South Africa. On this trip, I visited two camps in the northern region, which are situated along the Zambezi River. I also visited two camps in Hwange National Park. My final stop was Victoria Falls, which is one of the world's natural wonders.

I was paddling my canoe on Lake Kariba, along with an American family that was also in Wilderness Camp, when we passed a pod of hippos that cursed us with their adenoidal honks. One bite by those tusks can cut a crocodile in half, so with much respect we went around these overweight animals that swim like Lenny Krayzelburg on his best day.

As the canoe slowed, I put the Nikon to my eye and was overwhelmed by the image now in my viewfinder. To see an African bull elephant, Loxodona Africana, at such a close distance, is something that has to be experienced to be understood. It stood 13 feet at the shoulders and weighed 13,000 pounds. This moment provided my most satisfying experience while at Water Wilderness, Zimbabwe.

The National Parks along the Zambezi are legendary. Matusadona Water Wilderness camp is located in Matusadona Park. The lodge and chalets float by pontoons on Lake Kariba. There is a mother ship where guests dine and socialize. Getting to the camp requires either a canoe or motorized pontoon boat.

This area is one of the last where you can still see the endangered black rhinoceros. Poaching has decimated the black rhino population across its entire range, but here in Matusadona, there is a conservation project to save them. In the Matusadona Black Rhino Intensive Protective zone, the rhino population is protected from poachers and lions, by armed guards.

One fault of black rhinos is their natural aggression. They will charge at the slightest provocation or even simply on sight. This instinct to charge just about anything or anybody is due to three factors: poor eyesight, great curiosity and an advanced state of being intellectually challenged. This makes them easy targets for poachers. A decade ago, Zimbabwe had more than 3,000 black rhinos. Fewer than 300 black rhino are left today.

Africa has a second species of rhino, the white rhino. The "white" label comes from English-speaking hunters who misinterpreted the Dutch wyd, which means wide or broad, and has nothing to do with the color of the white rhino. The white rhino weighs in the area of 5,000 pounds and is the heavier of the two, as the black rhino is a lightweight at 3,500 pounds, although the black rhino is much more inclined to be aggressive and dangerous.

I visited another camp along the Zambezi. Ruckomechi camp is situated along the western boundary of Mana Pools National Park in a large grove of acacia and mahogany trees overlooking the Zambezi River. It has a great view of the Zambian Escarpment. I saw lions, elephants, buffalos, kudus, waterbucks, hippos, leopards and hundreds of species of birds. The camp gets visits from elephants that walk about camp as if they own it.

Next, I flew south to Hwange National Park and stayed at Linkwasha camp, which is located in a private area in the southeast region of the park. The area is home to more than 400 species of birds and a diverse animal population. During the winter, the area is known for its big game, including large concentrations of elephants, buffalos, lions and cheetahs, along with leopard.

Unfortunately, I could stay there for just one day. I was off the next day by Land Rover to Makalolo Plains. This area is also in Hwange National Park. While there, I saw huge herds of elephant, more than 300 at a time. At Makalolo, I lodged in a tent set up on a wooden deck above ground level. Wooden boardwalks above ground connected the tents to the main lodge. At Makalolo, I was treated to some of the best food I ever had, especially considering how far out in the bush it is. Makalolo was incredible, and it was with regret that I flew off again, this time to Victoria Falls.

"Smoke that thunders" is how the locals refer to to one of the seven natural wonders of the world. It is hard to find words to describe the feeling when you first see its massive size, hear it roar, feel the power of its mist on your face, and watch its flowing life give birth to rainbows. You will be moved as never before.

A Pittsburgh native, Henry Hill is a writer and photographer who lives in Florissant, Colo.



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