Rudie’s Race For Rhinos Travel Diary Part 1
Thursday, 29 June 2017
Traveling to outlying places, especially new habitations is nosh for the brain, heart and soul. As they say, “the world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”
Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the above sentiment by one Saint Augustine echoes nothing but the truth.
Hence, as connoted by John Hope Franklin, “we must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.”
For me traveling the lengths and breadths of our beautiful country Botswana always brings nothing but pleasurable feeling. Just like Edi Gathegi, “I am sort of an adventurer. I like to explore new places. I don’t get to travel as often as I would like but I love it.”
So this past Thursday until Saturday, I joined the Botswana Tourism Organisation (BTO) team for some of the most visceral moments one can ever experience. The occasion was aptly tagged #RaceForRhinos; an adrenaline filled macho event where animals, men and flying machines come together juxtaposed for a good cause.
The event takes places at Makgadikgadi Pans (Sua Pan), the home to Botswana’s sodium carbonate (soda ash) mining company Botash – half owned by government and Chlor Alkali Holdings (CAH), which produces over 300, 000 tonnes of soda ash and 450, 000 tonnes of salt per year. The pan is also home of one of only two breeding populations of greater flamingos in southern Africa.
Lest I get accused of jumping the gun, our trip began in Gaborone to Khama Rhino Sanctuary, near Serowe (about 334.7km) via A1 Road.
The Khama Rhino Sanctuary (KRS) is a community based wildlife project, established in 1992 to assist in saving the vanishing rhinoceros, restore an area formerly teeming with wildlife to its previous natural state and provide economic benefits to the local Botswana community through tourism and the sustainable use of natural resources.
Covering approximately, 8585 hectares of Kalahari Sandveld, the sanctuary provides prime habitat for white and black rhino as well as over 30 other animal species and more than 230 species of birds.
We arrived at KRS, (ol’ skool Hip-hop junkies will just add ‘One’ to the above acronym to satiate their fascination with Lawrence “Kris” Parker, an American rapper and occasional producer from The Bronx, New York City better known by his stage name KRS-One, whose 1995 hit song “MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know” still remains one of my favourite rap songs to date) just before sunset.
It was my first time here and I was utterly impressed. The vivacious smiles from the welcoming KRS staff was the icing on the cake of my attraction. After exchanging a few pleasantries, we checked into the spacious four-bed chalets, each one of us having a cabin to himself.
Thatch, treated wood, face brick and green mesh net dominate. Not far away is the restaurant. At least there’s free and open Wi-Fi. Animals such as antelopes (gazelles) roam freely and seem tamed, unfazed by the three talking voices lurking in their environs. Only when one comes too close will they bolt out compos mentis of the lurking danger.
Before we knew it, the sun had already sunk into the bushy horizons, signalling the serenity of the unruffled KRS hinterlands – one only hearing the occasional chirping of the copious bird species and a high pitched “honk” of a gazelle.
We made our way to the restaurant where we joined the BTO team for tomorrow’s briefing and dinner alongside a few veterinarians, members of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) and a few anti-poaching members from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks under the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism.
The briefing entailed tomorrow’s early morning programme which will see the team of experts capturing two rhinos from KRS and transporting them all the way to the Makgadikgadi Pans as part of the Race for Rhinos experience.
Dinner was served and we all retired to our beds anxious of tomorrow’s early schedule. Well, anxious because I have never come face to face with a rhinoceros before. Our agreed call time was 0630hrs.
Friday, 30 June 2017
The howling KRS savannah winter wind and the blaring alarm clock from my cell phone startled my poor self out of the warm and cosy “Moimoi” Chinese blankets.
I jumped out of bed, took a quick shower and headed straight for breakfast. The team was ready and raring to go. As they say, the earliest bird catches the fattest worm, well in this case, we were all set to catch some two sturdy and heavy animals – a rhino bull and a female.
The drive from the restaurant to the vast KRS grasslands was not long albeit meandering and the weather quite unfriendly. The time must have been around 7am or so.
Together with the brave and experienced team of experts we assembled for yet another briefing where instructions on what is required from each one of us were spelled out.
With rhinoceros specialists in tow our entourage drove into the vast KRS savannahs in search of the two animals, the helicopter hovering above the overcast skies for easy navigation. The crew aboard the helicopter was in constant communication with our team below. It wasn’t long before the helicopter crew had spotted one of the wanted rhinos bolting with its mate across the dry plains, and the animal doctors on the ground prepared some antidotes which will be used to dart the animal for easy capture.
One aim and the doctor pulled the trigger sending one dart into the thick skin of the wanted rhino bull. At this moment, we watched from a distance until our team of experts were certain the medicine had worked its magic on the animal. A few minutes later, the heavy animal started going into a dizzy state before slumping to the ground and we all rushed, as the veterinarians prepared several other doses for the animal.
The entire exercise must have lasted almost two hours until the heavy rhino bull was loaded into a cage and into the truck, ready to be taken to Makgadikgadi Salt Pans.
What an enthralling experience this was! Looked at my clock, and it was already 12 noon. The helicopter went up into the sky again to look for another rhino, this time around, a female who proved quite difficult to find.
Together with my mates, we decided to leave the experts to do what they do best as we headed out for the far-flung Sua Pan; a drive that lasted forever through the vast Botswana scenery.
We arrived around 10pm to find the place teeming with a plethora of folks and we immediately retired to bed inside the provided canvas tents…
Stay tuned to #botswanaunplugged for more!