Travel: Round the horn, up a gum tree

Namibia's black rhino population has fallen from 60,000 to 3,000 in three years. Paula Hardy gingerly follows a shy beastie

What should you do in the face of a charging rhino? It's a pertinent question if you're at the Ugab river in north-western Namibia. Safety measures when faced with an aggressive and temperamental wild animal at first seem straightforward enough, even though they appear to be a little on the scant side. Situations can be dealt with in one of three ways: you can leap behind any dense shrub or bush (if there is one); scramble up any suitable rocks; or if the worst comes to the worst and there is no cover in sight, you simply lie flat on the ground, put your hands on your head and pray.

That, at least, was the advice of the Save the Rhino monitoring programme. Established by Rudi and Blythe Loutit in 1980, Namibia's Save the Rhino Trust works in conjunction with the ministry of environment and tourism to protect the fragile river eco-system and the extraordinary wildlife it supports.

In doing this, however, they seek to resolve the conflict between human and animal needs and for this they look to the communities who live along the river itself. By establishing camps near existing settlements and by employing and training local trackers, they ensure that the proceeds from tourism benefit the local people. Tourists, on the other hand, gain from an unbelievable wealth of local knowledge about the river, the flora and fauna and, of course, the habits of the rhino.

As its name suggests the Trust itself is predominantly concerned with the elusive black rhino, a species that is now so endangered that the latest World Wildlife Fund statistics make depressing reading - numbers have been reduced from 60,000 to just 3,000 over the last three years.

Kitted out with day packs and the obligatory four litres of water, we set off with our two local trackers, Sonwezi and Matteus, in hot pursuit of Kali, a male rhino that had been spotted in the area the previous evening. So there we were, the trackers following the rhino and us following the trackers. On and on we went at a cracking pace following the almost dainty clover-shaped prints in the soft river sand.

Along the way we received an almost endless rundown of the evening's activities, "Here he stopped to eat. Here he lay down for a few hours. Here he relieved himself in rather copious quantities". By the end of the morning we appeared to know in minute detail every single bush and rock where he ate, slept and peed - it made the experience really rather homely, turning the apparently featureless landscape into a treasure trove of tasty eats and comfortable napping spots.

If you took time out from staring fixedly at the ground, you were not disappointed, and if you imagine the desert as a featureless waste then this is the place to prove you wrong. The effects of millions of years of erosion towered above us, layer upon layer of rock concertinaed into vertical formation above the alluvial plain. The earth's geological past written in the compact slate as the cliffs rolled and swirled towards the unforgiving blue arc of sky.

After five hours walking in the blazing heat I was beginning to despair of even catching a glimpse of the rhino, but as we took a much needed water break Songwezi came back and in a voice of suppressed excitement informed us that he was napping under some bushes a mere 800 metres away. We were lucky - some people can walk all day, distances up to 25km, and see neither hide nor hair of these unobliging creatures.

Everyone dropped back into single file following Songwezi and Matteus in absolute silence. At 200m from the bush in question Matteus broke off to find us a good vantage point - we waited with our hearts in our mouths. Creeping painfully around the bushes (rhinos have extremely good hearing), Matteus suddenly slipped on a rock (bad move) and the monotony of scrub suddenly gave way to a very stout and strong looking rhino.

My heart almost leapt right out of my body. Hurtling - as only so many tons of rhino can hurtle - out of the bushes towards us, his horn glinting like Cleopatra's needle in the afternoon sun, Kali finally made his presence felt. It was almost too much excitement for one day.

Songwezi's arm shot up and halted us in our tracks. Kali screeched to a standstill at the uncomfortably close distance of 50 metres. Confused and bad tempered at having been disturbed from his afternoon rest, he sniffed the air disconcertedly and we waited motionless in front of him, aware that at this distance he could not see us if we didn't move.

Looking about for any handy trees, rocks or bushes, I was alarmed to discover that this appeared to be one of those "worst possible" situations - no cover as far as the eye could see apart, that is, from the few bushes behind the very annoyed rhino in our path. As I debated whether I would really have the courage to throw myself on the ground in front of an enraged, charging rhino when all my best instincts instructed me to sprint in the opposite direction, Kali's hard-nosed stare got a little less intent and Songwezi instructed us to back up slowly out of the way.

Safely under the cover of bushes we were finally able to observe the iron-clad aggressor with somewhat more composure, although the feeling of exhilaration at coming face to face with such a prehistoric looking animal had hardly dissipated. I felt immensely privileged at having seen Kali at home - and on his terms rather than on my own.

Fact File

Getting to Namibia

The only airline with direct flights from the UK to Namibia is Air Namibia (0181-944 6181). You can also travel to the capital, Windhoek, on airlines such as Lufthansa and South African Airways, via Frankfurt and Johannesburg respectively.

Until shortly before Christmas, fares from discount agents are likely to be around pounds 500 return.

Rhino tracking

The Save the Rhino Trust, PO Box 224, Swakopmund, Namibia, is a non-government organisation concerned with the conservation of the black rhino as well as community development and awareness.

Paula Hardy visited Namibia as a volunteer with the British youth development charity, Raleigh International, 27 Parsons Green Lane, London SW6 4HZ (0171-371 8585, www.raleigh.org.uk).

Arts and Entertainment
Cillian Murphy stars as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in 2011

Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandal

books
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian Jack Dee has allegedly threatened to quit as chairman of long-running Radio 4 panel show 'I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue'

Edinburgh Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Director Paul Thomas Anderson (right) and his movie The Master featuring Joaquin Phoenix

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
There are no plans to replace R Kelly at the event

music
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>Laura
Carmichael- Lady Edith Crawley</strong></p>
<p>Carmichael currently stars as Sonya in the West End production of
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre. She made headlines this autumn
when Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall shouted at her in a
half-sleepy state during her performance. </p>
<p>Carmichael made another appearance on the stage in 2011, playing
two characters in David Hare’s <em>Plent</em>y
at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. </p>
<p>Away from the stage she starred as receptionist Sal in the 2011
film <em>Tinker Tailor Solider Spy</em>. </p>

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana admits she's

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In my grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service