Heading further south to Bulawayo, leaving Hwange National Park behind us. After settling down in Travellers Guest House, a middle-aged man named Ian Harmer picked us up. He was an experienced & knowledgeable guide who looked like “Crocodile” Dundee. We were gonna do an afternoon game drive in the Matobo National Park. The park is only 32km away from the city and is known for having a large concentration of black eagles. In addition to this, the game reserve is inhabited by rhinos, one of the endangered species in the world. I was hoping that I would finally see these rare animals. I have never seen any in my previous safaris.
First we walked around quite a bit and hiked up to one of the hills to get a view of the landscape. Matobo National Park has some of the most majestic granite scenery in the world. The rock formations are incredible. It’s like they have been sculpted & arranged to look the way they do. Actually, their formation was a result of imperceptible erosion for millions of years ago. Other interesting features of the park is the prolific amount of traditional San rock art and the grave of Cecil John Rhodes. The man who founded the southern African territory of Rhodesia.
Afterwards we were back in our vehicle and drove for 30 minutes. Ian stopped by the time he spotted three rhinos. The plan was we were gonna go closer to them on foot. I thought “Are you serious?”. Before going out, he informed us not to make loud noises or sudden movements on the way because this would startle them. I was hesitant at first. But went along with the rest of the group who obviously didn’t mind risking their lives. Upon seeing them at short distance, I quickly noticed that they lack horns. We were approximately 30 meters away when Ian whispered to us that we are gonna go much closer for a better view. So I let half of the group take the lead. I thought if the rhinos attack, they would charge at them first as a distraction in order to give me a bit of time to run back to our vehicle. But since it was a now or never situation, I ultimately set my fears aside. I tried to get as close as possible for a good shot. By 5 meters, one of them stared directly at me for a minute. Then it started walking slowly towards me. “Help! I’m too young to die!” I screamed inside me as I walked backwards. Feeling desperate. I wanted to run. But in the back of my mind I knew it was pointless to try. Then I felt relieved when it miraculously changed direction.
Rhinoceroses used to be plentiful but due to human activity through poaching, their numbers have dwindled. Hundreds of rhinos are killed illegally for their horns every year. On the way, I learned from Ian about the effort made to protect these animals. The park is patroled by armed rangers. To protect them from poachers, their horns are surgically removed, preventing them from entering the black market. One rhino horn is in fact worth almost a hundred thousand dollars per kilogram. So basically it’s like winning the lottery.
The game ended with a beautiful sunset. I was so happy to finally see these fascinating beasts. I managed to get a good photo thanks to Ian who led as (way too) close to them. An absolutely memorable experience during my time in Zimbabwe so far. As we left the Matobo National Park, I realized how lucky we were and that this opportunity may not be possible for future generations if the rhinos are left unprotected.