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31 Jan, 2023
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The Nairobi Rhinos - Article by Gareth Jones

The Nairobi Rhinos – Article by Gareth Jones

BLACK & WHITE IS GREY – BY GARETH JONES

It is always a thrill to see Rhino in the wild, just a few days ago I saw some White Rhino peacefully grazing in the park. That reminded me of the exciting event in October 2009 when 10 White Rhino were successfully translocated to Nairobi from Lake Nakuru National Park. By amazing coincidence I just happened to be near the Hyena dam just after 18h00 on the evening of the first release, it was a fantastic sight to witness as the first white rhino stepped out of the transport crate. I was also very fortunate to see the first white rhino calf born a few months after their arrival.

White Rhino are different from Black Rhino in a number of ways, firstly white rhino are considerably larger but more placid than the moody and often aggressive black rhino. White Rhino are grass grazers while black rhino eat off scrubs and plants. There is absolutely no colour difference in the two sub-species, they are both grey. Their colour appears at times to vary according to whatever mud &  sand type is in the area they live in, so they can also be reddish / brownish / yellowish/ whitish at times all because of the soil on their skin. The White Rhino gets its name from the dutch (Afrikaans) “Wyd” meaning wide, due to their square mouths designed for grazing. It appears that the English translators might have not heard correctly and perhaps thought the dutch settlers said “white”. The White rhino (Ceratotherium simum) is the largest species of rhino with mature bulls weighing an average of 2300kg  and record specimens over 3500 kg have been recorded elsewhere in Africa. The gestation period is notably long at 16 months with a single calf being born. Mature white rhino can live over 40 years in the wild. The black rhino just named the opposite colour of white and they have cleft lips designed for eating leaves from bushes. The Nairobi Park has a healthy population of Black Rhino and more recently over the past few years, both Black & White Rhino from Nairobi have translocated to other national parks. The black rhino (Diceros bicornis) are considerably smaller with adults typically weighing about 1400 kg, however a record size of nearly 2900 kg is recorded elsewhere in Africa. The gestation period is about 15 months. Mature adults can live a natural life of well over 35 years. While rhino lack in eyesight there sense of hearing and smell are very finely tuned to their environment.

I drove into the park recently on a hot Friday afternoon with three expectant and excited guests from South Africa. The plan was to have a picnic late lunch, and then go for an afternoon game drive. Well we drove for some time, and I looked everywhere possible, we saw very much wildlife, but somehow we had not seen any lions. One of the guests had never been in a game park with wild lions, I jokingly said “well let’s go bird watching, that’s when the lions get in the way !“, he laughed and we continued to look.

Then suddenly I saw two white rhinos grazing near a stream, we drove closer and watched them with interest, then something moved in the grass near the rhino, it was a large male lion. Fantastic! we now had two rhinos moving closer and closer to a lion. As the rhinos approached so the lion sat up, looked casually at them, and remained sitting, looking very relaxed. The rhinos however snorted a bit and made a semi circle, but the lion did not move, eventually the rhinos, turned away and continued grazing. It appears that it is not size that matters with royalty, it is the regal behavior that counts. My guests were really happy and left the park with fond memories.

I often think back on interesting or memorable moments in the park. However some of those moments are not pretty or nice, but rather brutal and alarming. It was late in the afternoon one week in February 2012 as heavy rain clouds moved over the park, I then decided to drive across the park and exit at Masai gate. As I approached junction 18A, suddenly two huge shapes quickly emerged over the hill in the middle of the road. It was two huge white rhino bulls in a fearsome fight. I stopped immediately as they continued to fight at the junction, they made unusual noises that sounded a bit like an elephant trumpeting without a trunk, and another squealing sound, plus a deep grumble almost belly growl noise. It was clear to me that this fight was in the final stages now, as both bulls were very tired and full of blood. Eventually they stood opposite each other gasping for breath, then one of them with a sawn off horn turned and slowly walked off into the grass and began to graze as if nothing had happened. The other one continued to stand there in the road for some time longer.

Then just as I drove away less than 50m from the rhinos, 5 lions sat on the edge of the road. They had no doubt heard all the noises and came to investigate, maybe hoping that one of them would be mortally wounded? As I drove away again I noted the rhino tracks in the road and measured a distance of over a kilometer that they fought in the road. Rhino bulls are known to have territory fights especially when there are females involved. It must have been quite a hard tough battle.

Over the years many people including myself have increasing concern and caring feelings for rhinos, especially because of the evil action of slaughtering them, just for their horns. Interestingly it should be noted that rhino horn has about the same composition as human fingernails. Therefore it is extremely important that those who consume horn powder must be educated to know that there are absolutely no magical sexual or medical benefits, it is all a huge lie.

Early one morning we interrupted a black rhino while it was enjoying a delightfully mushy mudbath. No doubt the sound of the car engine caused the rhino to decide to get up suddenly and move away. As this magnificent creature emerged from the mudbath it was a dark wet shiny brown and appeared to look like it could have been made of chocolate (Perhaps dark Lindt). However in reality it was a Black rhino. If we were to re-name Rhino types again. What would we call them? Perhaps they could be called the great grey rhino, with 2 sub species square lipped and cleft lipped? We could use our imaginations, however the reality is that they are still called black & white rhino, even though they are actually grey, and sometimes chocolate!!!

Every time I drive into the park there is an excitement in knowing that every day is different, but there are also times when the “something different” is a sad event. Such was the day a few years ago, when I saw a large grey lifeless shape lying near the stream below No. 4A junction. Looking with my binoculars I determined that it was a dead rhino. It was sad for me to see this, and thought I already knew what rhino it was most likely to be, as I had not seen the old black rhino bull I fondly called “Mzee” for about a week. Normally I saw him almost daily, either in the early morning or in the late afternoon mostly in the section just after No. 4A junction in the direction of No. 5 junction, over a period of more than 10 years he became very much part of my expected sightings when driving though the park. Deep down I knew it was him, and then I coincidentally met with the Rhino patrol unit who confirmed it was “Mzee”. They said he was one of the oldest Black rhino bulls in the Nairobi National Park, and that many calves had come from his seed. I do not know exactly how old he was, (black rhinos normally average about forty years and can live for up to fifty years), but thankfully he had the “honour” of a natural death, unlike thousands of other Rhinos that are butchered just for their horns. The Nairobi black rhinos are the sub species called East African Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis michaeli) they prefer highland forest and savanna habitat and also have a longer, leaner, curved horn and it’s skin is more grooved.

In the early sixties it is estimated that only 6 black rhinos remained in the Nairobi National Park, with rampant slaughter due to poaching elsewhere in Kenya, more that 40 black rhinos were translocated to the park in the hope that it would be a sanctuary for their survival and a breeding nucleus for East Africa. Well approximately 55 years later there are still massive challenges in Kenya due to poaching, but the Nairobi population is still thriving. Let’s pray they continue to survive and thrive in this sanctuary.

The park is open daily from 06h00 to 19h00.

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Gareth JonesGareth Jones – Nairobi Park Dairy – A passionate writer & photographer

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