Whenever I hear the name of Don’t Worry, a desert-adapted black rhino in Namibia’s Palmwag Concession, I think about the song by Bobby McFerrin – and Bob Marley – Don’t Worry, Be Happy. In this case we can certainly be happy, as Save the Rhino Trust – Namibia (SRT) has managed to protect this iconic black rhino for a milestone 30 years – born in 1990, he would have been one of the SRT’s first monitored animals after the NGO was founded in 1982.
In 2016, I was fortunate enough to visit Namibia and spend a few nights at Desert Rhino Camp. The camp lies in the Palmwag Concession and plays an important role in protecting one of Africa’s largest free-roaming desert-adapted black rhino populations.
Your stay here includes tracking these Critically Endangered animals on foot with the trackers from SRT. The activity starts with an early morning breakfast before guests meet up with the trackers. On my visit, we were in luck as the plan was to see if they could find one of the older rhinos in the area, called Don’t Worry.
It was not long before we received a call from the trackers that they had found fresh tracks of a black rhino. The trackers were certain that these were the tracks of Don’t Worry. Rhinos are very territorial and will stay within one specific area for extended periods of time. This also helps the trackers to rotate between different areas. They prefer not to visit the same rhino each day as they want to avoid placing too much stress on the animal while tracking them on foot.
After a short drive we met up with the trackers where we were briefed on the protocol for tracking rhinos on foot. The key to a successful walk with black rhino is to approach them slowly and quietly. Rhinos do not see well, but they have excellent hearing and will quickly hear danger approaching.
We followed the rhino’s tracks until we reached the top of a nearby hilltop where we were asked to stop. With some excitement in his voice, Bons our guide , told us that they may have spotted a rhino further down the hill. After a few minutes it was confirmed that it was indeed a black rhino and, in this case, it was Don’t Worry.
We slowly made our way down the hill where Don’t Worry was browsing on the vegetation. It was key to avoid spooking him and making him run off. After careful assessment, we came to a near-standstill, roughly 50 metres from him. We were lucky, as Don’t Worry was more focused on his early breakfast than these strangers staring at him through their binoculars and cameras. For the next 30 minutes we observed Don’t Worry browsing, making his way from one bush to the next, and every so often lifting his head to ensure all was safe.
After a few photographs and hearing more about the important work done by SRT, we slowly made our way back to our vehicle. What an exhilarating experience to not only see a black rhino, but one on foot! I’ve travelled to many wildlife areas throughout southern Africa over the last 40 years and can probably count all my sightings of black rhino on both of my hands. OK, and maybe adding a few toes…
Happy 30th birthday Don’t Worry! He is now moving into his prime, as a black rhino’s average lifespan is between 35 and 45 years. Stay safe, Big Guy!
What is the Save the Rhino Trust?
Save the Rhino Trust is a highly respected Namibian NGO which is almost single-handedly responsible for the preservation of the black rhino in the Palmwag Concession. They focus on the protection, monitoring and understanding of the local black rhino population that is funded through donations and partnerships. Over the last 38 years of protecting this unique species, they have managed to quintuple their numbers.
Does this mean we do not have to worry anymore? Unfortunately not, as this species is still on the Critically Endangered list of the IUCN, and is still being poached throughout Africa for their horns.
While tracking rhino at Desert Rhino Camp is clearly a highlight, the desert is filled with a surprising array of other life, and our stay included seeing a number of other species which I was able to photograph.
By Carel Loubser
Post courtesy of Wilderness Safaris