Daniel Howden: Face to face with an angry rhino

Wildlife safaris, I've discovered, tend to be dominated by men pretending to know more than they do
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The Independent Online

There's a strange-looking dent on the rear bumper of my car. Considering that it's a 14-year-old jeep, this is hardly surprising.

This one is special though. A triangular imprint that will act as a reminder of how close I came to getting myself, and others, killed.

Wildlife safaris, I've discovered, are much like journalism or the lighting of barbecues, in so much as they tend to be dominated by men pretending to know more than they do. The temptation to distil recently borrowed information, then mix it with stubbornness and complacency, is as overwhelming as it is unwise.

Sitting behind the wheel in the apparently unvisited, friendly Solio reserve a few hours north of Nairobi, I had started what seemed to be the tamest leg of the return journey from the spectacular wilderness of Samburu in northern Kenya. It's a relatively small park renowned for its white rhinos and its rich owners, who according to one of their friends are so wealthy they've forgotten they own it.

The sheer size and physiognomy of a rhino is enough to make any sensible person nervous. It's a 3.5-metric-ton organic battering ram, with a four-foot horn, unexpected acceleration and little – if any – sense of pain.

I remember what I had just finished saying to my rather nervy companions before I got the dent: "The only thing to be afraid of in this park is disturbing the animals."

So disturb them I did. A pair of mature white rhinos. The female failed to notice our vehicle until we were about 15 metres behind her. She literally jumped into the air when she realised we were there, and her mate wheeled around and without hesitation charged us.

Seconds slowed to minutes as the accelerator on the aged Suzuki was pressed, coughed and failed to respond. A voice shouted "Shit! They're coming," and we sat there broadside of them. A rush of blood to the head and finally petrol to the engine and we had turned.

Behind me the monstrous pair now filled the dusty back windscreen as we crashed through the bush. Then it hit. More of a kiss than the lethal smash it would have been seconds before.

And we were off arcing away from them, terrified, chastened, and no longer willing to talk knowingly or take anything for granted.

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