Close encounters of the wild kind

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iol travel sep 3 ss namib horse2

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Rare  a black rhino in Namibia's Damaraland. Photo: Torleif Svensson

Windhoek - “Black rhino!” Hearts in our mouths, we can’t believe our luck. Out on the rocky plains of Damaraland stood the most endangered of Africa’s Big Five, ears flicking and head raised in typical short-sighted stance. SJ’s daughter Zoe, 11, was the first to spot it. At a safe distance, we sit quietly on our horses, ready to gallop away in an instant. SJ checks that everyone is comfortable, then speaks softly about why this is such an incredible sight. “Each time we do this ride we find their tracks. To see a black rhino anywhere is a huge achievement, but to do so on horseback is something that few will ever experience.” As the sheer enormity of our good fortune sinks in, we’re rather glad that our horses are literally taking things in their stride.

We give him a wide berth, as black rhinos are unpredictable and very curious, with notoriously bad eyesight. If we’d needed to gallop out of danger over such rocky ground, the horses would’ve had difficulty – fortunately we have enough distance between us, and both horses and rhino stand their ground. Then he catches our scent and crashes towards us like an army tank, covering about 40m in a matter of seconds before calling off the charge.

This individual is usually relaxed in the presence of game-viewing vehicles, but a combination of horses and humans is something new.

Another highlight of our ride is an encounter with a herd of elephants as they cross the plains ahead of us, returning from water to browse. Young bulls, protective cows, and tiny calves in procession have the tips of our horses’ ears almost touching, and when an elephant spins face-on with a volley of head-shaking, the wind changes direction and carries the scent of the herd towards us. This proves too much for one mount, who speeds off in the opposite direction. At times like this, it’s absolutely clear why these rides are only suitable for very experienced riders!

Namibia’s Damaraland region is a unique ecosystem, and supports a staggering variety of desert-adapted creatures, both large and small. We are fortunate to get to the heart of the action on horseback – and delighted that photographer Torleif Svensson is with us to capture these remarkable images. - Saturday Star

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