Years ago when I was still a game ranger, we rescued a month old baby rhino from one of the neighbouring game reserves and brought it to the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre. The poor little thing was extremely dehydrated and required a fair amount of medical attention. On top of which we also had to bottle feed the newly christened Manya with two litres of specially formulated milk every three hours. The little girl grew very fond of people as a result of all the close contact she experienced during her first few weeks at the Centre, and loved to play with anyone that entered her enclosure.
Three years later sweet little Manya had transformed into a massive two ton Sherman tank. The only problem was that our not so little girl still loved playing, and still got just as exited when she heard a vehicle or peoples’ voices entering her enclosure. Her love of people and playing eventually became a huge headache (and sometimes even a broken arm or leg) for the HESC staff, as our Manya started overturning vehicles and destroying fences and gates on a daily basis.
Something had to be done. Mrs Lente Roode (HESC founder) and her staff decided to release Manya onto the Kapama Game Reserve, but unfortunately nobody told us about this. And that’s where all our problems started.
I was conducting a midmorning walking safari with a colleague and eight guests (on the selfsame reserve where Manya had been reintroduced into the wild) when we stumbled upon a rhino sleeping in the inflow of one of the water holes. The huge animal was about 200m away from us, so we decided to stalk in and see how close we could get. Rhinos have very poor eye sight coupled with an acute sense of hearing, and normally when they hear or smell a human being they will jump up and run off in the opposite direction as quickly as possible.
After a few meters of stalking one of the guests accidentally stepped on a branch, causing the rhino to jump up, ears moving back and forth like two radar dishes. I was pretty disappointed as I thought that the rhino would immediately hightail it out of the area.
Oh how wrong I was. Instead the mammoth beast ran directly at us while making excited panting sounds. I could not believe my eyes when I saw this enormous 2.2 ton monster galloping for us instead of running away.
“Carl, I think it’s Manya, there were rumours that she was going to be released onto the reserve,” my colleagued muttered under his breath to me.
A very excited Manya was clearly ready to play, and sprinting towards us at a rate of knots. Needless to say our lives were in great danger. I’d never heard of anybody tangoing with something this large (never mind the half meter razor sharp horn she sported) and surviving to tell the tale.
I yelled to my colleague to lead the guests inside a semi-protected drainage line. In the meantime I jumped up and down and waved my arms about, hoping that I’d somehow manage to divert the charging beast’s attention towards me and give the others a chance to get away.
My plan worked a little too well and Manya proceeded to zoom in on me a little more quickly than I’d anticipated. I knew I had to run for my life. And run I did, like a man possessed, but for every six of my paces, Manya took one. I was losing ground by the second, and the snorts behind me were coming closer and closer. When I started experiencing splenalgia I realised that it would have been a much better idea if my colleague had acted as the decoy (the last time I attempted anything faster than jog was when I tried to impress a girl by running the 800m at school).
I started feeling a burning pain in my chest and a horn almost poking me from behind. I dug deep into my reserves and with my last bit of energy (and lots of adrenalin) I jumped into a large Marula tree. And let me tell you, I only just made it.
Glad to still be alive, I perched on a branch catching my breath and waited for Manya to leave. She was in no hurry to go anywhere however, and wasn’t giving up her new found friendship that easily either.
Sitting in the Marula tree for two hours in temperatures exceeding 40ºC gave me a lot of time to work out what I was going to tell the media about my act of bravery, but after another hour in the tree and still no rescuers in sight, I realised that the paparazzi weren’t coming.
Manya eventually left and I climbed out of the tree with great difficulty, stopping at the bottom to marvel at how I got up it in the first place. When I arrived back at camp my thoughtful colleague was enjoying lunch with the guests.
Although there was no media present to offer me a medal (or two) for my bravery I did get a big round of applause.
Until next time,