Namibian baby rhino beats Yellowstone grizzlies hands down

It’s a fair bet that most people have heard about Yellowstone National Park, in the USA, famous for its grizzly bears. If you live near there, and want to find real adventure, you come to ….. Namibia. That’s what Gary and Terry Trauner did with their son Aaron in April, when they witnessed the birth of a black rhino calf in the Klip River valley, near Grootberg Lodge, in Kunene.

Finding rhino in the valley is tough at any time of year, but that’s part of the attraction for tourists to Namibia, where endangered species have been translocated out of national parks and into communal conservancies, to roam freely as they did in the past.

In ≠Khoadi/-hoas Conservancy, which owns Grootberg Lodge, rhino tracking is a top attraction. There is no guarantee of finding them, but the conservancy guides do their best, and get just as excited as the guests when they find a rhino that they have not seen for a while.

When Gary, Terry and Aaron set off, they were not sure what they would see.  They thought they knew the wild. After all, they live right next door to Yellowstone and see Moose and Grizzlies in their back yard, says Gary, but in comparison the Klip River is …. “rugged.”

The trip starts at 6am, just as the last stars are extinguished by the winter dawn. Although midday temperatures reach 38 degrees, it pretty near freezing at the start of the day. The climb down into the valley in an open Land rover jars the bones, as the vehicle jolts through rocky river beds.

“The guides were fantastic,” says Gary. They know about the topography, how the landscape was formed, and can point out countless plant and bird species. Larger game is more a matter of luck, and on the way down the family were fortunate to see desert dwelling elephant and mountain zebra.

By 2pm the rhinos had proved elusive, and it was almost time to turn back. But the guides were not giving up. Although the walkie-talkie had packed in, the guide in the car and trackers on foot know the area so well they were able to meet at pre-arranged points, and at the last moment one of the trackers reported rhino down a side valley.

In the main valley there are sandy tracks for a vehicle. Traversing side valleys has to be done on foot. Despite the thick bush, guides and visitors pressed on, climbing the rocky valley sides for over an hour, when suddenly they caught sight of  a rhino in a wooded thicket below.

At last, it all seemed worthwhile. Indeed, after the hard trek it could hardly have been better. But then suddenly one of the trackers emerged from the bush to say he has seen a female rhino and a new born calf on the other side of the valley. The baby was so fresh that the mother was still licking it.

“We crossed the valley gingerly,” says Gary, “and got within 50 feet of the mother and calf. We were very careful. Although the mother was preoccupied, you never know with wildlife.” But the family were close enough to take some pictures, and the trackers were able to record that the mother was a rhino called Horns, which they had not seen for four months.

The gestation period for a rhino calf is 15 months. For the family and trackers to have seen a calf just after birth, in the true wilderness of the Klip River valley, was close to a miracle. For the family who love the wild in the USA, this was something new and special.

Back home, Gary is on the board of an American NGO dedicated to the conservation of the Teton Mountains. As an environmentalist, he believes that ≠Khoadi/-hoas Conservancy is doing a remarkable job. “In such a sparsely populated region, locals are sustaining wildlife through eco-tourism: that’s impressive.”

And Namibia? Gary says that he is telling everybody he meets that if you want adventure, it is the country to visit. Grootberg Lodge and ≠Khoadi/-hoas Conservancy will be at the Tourism Expo from 6-9 June at the Windhoek Showgrounds, where visitiors can learn more about tourism in Namibia’s communal conservancy areas.

Steve Felton
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