In December last year I posted an article here on SafariKZN about my personal links with rhinos. There is a war being fought in Southern Africa against poachers in an effort to save the species from extinction. I mentioned that in 1994 the first big game I ever encountered were three huge white rhino. This was in Weenen Game Reserve, a little know place in KwaZulu Natal that I have been visiting almost yearly.
To mark twenty years since my first visit to the province I took myself back to Weenen where it all began. I wanted to once again self drive the familiar roads of the reserve, although these days the roads are not in great shape. I no longer need my map and guide book though I still have them from my first visit. I can now visualise my route and where to stop at view points, hides and water holes.
This was also a sad visit, back in December I wrote of the poaching of five white rhino within the reserve. Investigations on arrival confirmed that number to be six, all murdered on one night, for their ‘worthless’ horns. Two more had survived their ordeal but were now wandering the reserve dehorned by the poachers.
The grass in the reserve was at its longest after heavy summer rains. I wanted to see what was left of the carcasses that still lay where they had been overdosed with tranquilisers, and died. It was not a morbid fascination, I just wanted to pay my respects to the animals that I may have seen on my drives in years gone by. Harmless giant grazers slaughtered for money by ignorant people.
I did not see the two hornless survivors from the night of carnage either, but I have it on good authority that they are doing ok. They are keeping a low profile and are very rarely spotted in the open since the poaching.
There is one particular spot where I always see giraffe. And on reaching it I was not disappointed. There they were nine of them, wandering from flat top thorn tree to flat top thorn tree. From the dirt road the views across distant hills seem to go forever. Taking in the views were zebra, red hartebeest and two pairs of ostrich.
Stopping on one road to watch a pair of jackals playing in the dust I was aware that it was not just me and them in the area. To my right a small group of female kudu were browsing. And within a few meters of the females a huge kudu bull was watching me from a behind a thorn tree. Within a hundred meters to my right pair of eland were grazing, paying little attention to me. A family of warthog bolted across the road startling me. Looking down from the open window several yellow butterflies were fluttering around a rhino midden that had toadstools growing from its edges. Then, from long grass three of rhino appeared, slowly walking towards me. It took me back to that first visit twenty years ago.
Sadly on the day I flew home the sad news reached me that Weenen had lost yet another rhino to poaching. These are dark days for a small piece of KwaZulu Natal paradise.