Ears cupped forward listening and eyes staring myopically through the surrounding mopane trees, the black rhino looked over the dried river bed for any signs of danger. Cream colored grass, bleached white by the sun, spreads out in front of him. It was close to noon and he looked ready to lie down and sleep. I didn’t blame him, as the sun was beating down and the cool of the morning was rapidly dissipating, being replaced by a hard, dry heat that compelled even the most heat tolerant animals to seek the shaded comfort of the trees.
I was in Damaraland in the northwest of Namibia – an arid and rugged region that is home to the desert-adapted black rhino and elephants. I had walked into the dried bed of the seasonal river with the Save the Rhino Trust scouts who track the shy black rhinos every day. I was staying at the tented Desert Rhino Camp, which is managed by Wilderness Safaris, a company that partners with the Save the Rhinos Trust, an NGO that has been instrumental in bringing the Damaraland black rhinos back from the brink of extinction.
The landscape here dwarfs the animals, even the rhinos and elephants. Desert Rhino Camp is in the 450,000 hectare Palmwag Concession – a region of stark beauty, surrounded by plateau mountains, and dominated by dried plains covered in basalt rocks and dotted with poisonous euphorbia bushes. Everything about the land is harsh, but a surprising number of desert-adapted animals call it home: Hartman’s zebra, oryx, kudu, springbok, giraffe, lion, hyena, cheetah, elephant and the black rhinos that I have come to see.
I turn to one of the scouts and whisper, “What’s the rhino called?” The scouts know most of the animals by sight.
“Don’t worry,” comes the reply.
That’s an odd answer I think to myself. The rhino is a 100 yards away and doesn’t seem to be agitated. What is there to be worried about?
“I am not worried, but was wondering about the ID of the rhino?”
“Don’t worry,” came the reply again.
I was about to ask if he understood what I was asking. The scouts are Damara, and although English is the official language in Namibia, it is only used by about 7 percent of the population. It would be far more likely that he would speak one of the Damara dialects, Afrikaans or even German.
Just then he smiled at me and said, “The rhino’s name is Don’t Worry.”
Don’t Worry is a 22-year old sub-dominant male with a 110 km2 home range. He’s named Don’t Worry because he is one of the more approachable rhinos in the population. The rhinos in Damaraland barely survived an onslaught of poaching in the 1980s and 1990s, but since the formation of the Save the Rhino Trust, the population has more than doubled.
Smiling, I turn back to snap some more photos, Don’t Worry is living up to his name and is moving under one of the mopane trees where he lies down in the shade and falls asleep. We walk quietly back out of the dried river bed, leaving Don’t Worry in peace to enjoy his afternoon rest.
The encounter has taken less than five minutes, but the thousands of miles I have traveled to see the animal seem a small price to pay to witness such a magnificent and endangered animal in its natural habitat. Seeing it with a scout in possession of a dry sense of humor was just a bonus.