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Planet Earth

South African wildlife - White rhinoceros

Not Exactly Rocket ScienceBy Ed YongOctober 10, 2009 7:00 PM

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The white rhinoceros - the planet's second largest land mammal. Even though it's the most common of the five existing speceis of rhino, there are still just over 17,000 left in the wild. For comparison, more than five times as many humans pack into Wembley Arena when there's a match on. With that in mind, we felt lucky and priveleged to see these magnificent animals, not just once but on four separate occasions.

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These photos come from the clearest daylight sighting (most were of far-off animals lurking behind thicket), when we followed two individuals for about ten minutes. As you can see, it's not white, it's grey. However, even if you think you know where the name comes from, you probably don't.

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But the best rhino experience we had was at night. It was pitch-black and we were at the end of an evening game-drive, illiuminated only by the jeep's headlights, the tracker's torch and the glow of camera screens. We'd just seen slender mongooses and lesser bushbabies and were feeling pretty pleased when we came across a group of seven rhinos.

They slowly crossed the road in front of us... and started to bed down for the night in the middle of it. It was fairly comical - if you're three tonnes of muscle and fat, it's difficult to lie down gracefully. For good measure, one of the rhinos farted loudly and protractedly.

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And then... one of the largest individuals (the big one standing up in the group shot) moved around the group and walked straight towards us. It stopped about three metres from the jeep. Rhinos have poor eyesight but superb hearing, and one ear was fixed on us, while the other scanned around for other noises. There was a communal and unspoken understanding among everyone in the vehicle that the time for laughing at rhino flatulence was now over and this was the time for being very quiet indeed to avoid the aforementioned three tonnes of muscle and fat taking two steps forward and ploughing straight into the side of the jeep.

The standoff lasted a fair while, after which we took off in the opposite direction. It's worth noting that when the engine started and the jeep rocketed off, many of the sleeping rhinos took off like a shot. For such a bulky creature, the speed with which they got up, turned and ran off was absolutely astounding.

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