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Of friends, training, rhinos and thorns

I thought would have been a blast, when I was asked to run the training for Saruni Rhino with the aim of teaching rangers and guides to approach black rhinoceros on foot and create a safe yet stunning activity in Sera conservancy in northern Kenya, I thought it would have been a blast.

I called my friend Moli, we needed to be two trainers for the job, I was sure he would have jumped on the opportunity, who would not want to spend a month tracking black rhinos in east africa!!!!!!!!

I was right, he also thought would have been a blast.

NRT, northern rangeland trust fenced a small section 110 sq km in Sera conservancy and introduced there 10 black rhinos taken from Lewa and Nakuru. for the first time in 5o and more years black rhinos were back in a land that used to support many. Proper rhino land is Sera, Commiphora woodland at its best, with enough water to sustain a good wildlife.

Now the rhinos are 11 as one was born after the relocation

We started tracking the rhinos in the traditional way and we had some success albeit it would take long time, the terrain is difficult for tracking, old granitic soil covered in little broken rocks. To our great joy we found out the one of the samburu guides of Saruni, Joseph, is a skilled tracker, one of the best we had ever seen, so good that would easily compete with the best Shaangan trackers down south.

Getting to the rhino was not the main problem the problem was getting there before the rhino went into the thick commiphora to nap the day off. Not knowing yet the habits of the 10 +1 rhinos we often ended up walking in thick thorny staff and getting a view of the rhino at close quarter but without the necessary safe ground and visibility needed for guests.

We decided then to use telemetry to try to get to the rhino with higher speed till the habits and whereabouts of each individual was well known.

Now, Moli and I, started to lead the trainees into rhinos with better timing.  They are tough opponents in the approaching contest, so aware of their surroundings, so suspicious, always alert.

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In every are animals behave differently and we had to learn slowly how to work the Sere rhinos out, applying all the normal walking rules was definitely not enough.

This creatures have a cunning talent in recognising the slightest noise as belonging to the most feared specie in nature, the human being. Their funny pointy ears are always on the move, and the moment they stretch out in your direction you know you don’t stand a chance. You can only freeze and wait as long as it takes to get them relaxed again, but most of the time even that would not be enough. They would take some seconds to process with their little brain what they heard and then with no other noise from us they would spin on a coin and trash thought the bush not to be seen again. The terrain did not help, that tiny rocks and pebbles and dry twigs where so noisy, basically was like walking on Kellogg’s cornflakes.

It took Moli’s and mine combined skills to start having some success, once the rhino is located, we had to walk downwind with a painfully slow pace, stalking the big pachyderm with our best stealthy steps. No talking at all, just a lot of patience and hand signs.

Slowly but surely we started winning, and then it came the day when all of it come to test.

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We tracked from 6 in the morning and soon was clear that there was something different from usual. The signal of 5 rhinos came from the same spot.

we started stalking downwind in that direction, we reached a belt of thick commiphora woodland, not penetrable with guests and at this point of training not suitable for trainees either. We wanted to see them feel and we wanted to see them safely.

From the noise in the woodland and the glimpses we had we realised that there was some courtship and flirting game going on.  Cedric the biggest bull was trying to convince Julia about the quality of his genes.

We kept anticipating the movements of the 5, moving downwind from safe ground to safe ground ahead of them, and eventually we lost them, we never really had a sight but we could hear them when suddenly we could not hear them anymore where we expected them to come out. We had to give the thick area a wide berth and this was probably why.

We decided to track our steps back a little, Samara was acting as lead guide and we where behind helping him to make the right decision. While moving back after around one hundred meters we got good visual of Nariku Sera a peaceful female, she was unaware of us and kept moving in her direction disappearing from view. We moved back, one step at a time, carefully placing our feet where they would make less noise.  We reached a cluster of rocks from where with a bit of elevation we could see further. and we waited, we started hearing the rhinos before we saw them, and there here they were. One after the other walked in our direction and one after the other went to nap under a different bush seeking the only possible shade. The first, the second, the third all disappeared under some kind of cover without allowing us the great view we were dreaming of. Only Cedric and Julia were missing, and they slowly appeared, Cedric a bit further, still pacing up and down, frustrated by his effort not being considered, Julia coming slowly towards us and towards the only small clearing really close to us.

She kept coming and our expectations rose, she was getting herself in the best position for us. we were silent and still like rocks. She was almost at the clearing and then to our disappointment she turned and started browsing on something. Now we were kind of annoyed, 3 hours of approach, with incredible patience and now we are three meter from success and yet nothing depends on us anymore.

We wait and wait and wait again, some of us higher on the rock, some lower, but all safely tucked in, we wait and wait and eventually she moves, straight to us, straight in the clearing. Beautiful view, strong wind in our face, great safe ground we could not ask for more.

And she came slowly and then she stopped, she froze pointing all here senses to us,  we will never know what gave us away, she probably will never know, but somehow she knew something what not right.

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She mad the three step run that we happen to know so well during the training, that small run to provoke a reaction and understand if there is a threat or not, we did not move and after some minutes of stand off she turn and run away. The commiphoras unwillingly gave her way, and then few meters after she stopped and relaxed again a bit before forgetting of all of this

it was unbelievable it was a present and the beginning of a new era for Sera.

We thought that training for Saruni and NRT, on approaching black rhinos on foot in Sera  would have been a blast, we were right, it was a blast.

 

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All these pictures were taken on foot