Sunday, January 30, 2011

My own private rhino

Before Eddy arrived I  received a call from Epako Guy, “We have a new baby Rhino”. That simple sentence began a misson of sorts, the quest was to take THE white rhino mother and baby picture. I was after something photographically transcendent, something epic, an image I could turn down a pile of money from the National Geographic Society for (I may be waxing lyrical here). Six afternoons, two mornings and something on the up side of 30 hours later I think I got there.

This may be hard to believe but Rhino’s are damn hard to shoot. I mean photographically,  well not really except that generally, they are about as challenging as taking a photograph of a brick building and just about as interesting.   This is a typical rhino shot. 'hold still, don't move, Okay I won't....." You could take this shot all day long and into the next.

(A momentary nomenclature digression: as descriptive terms white rhino and black rhino are meaningless. It’s more accurate to refer to them as hook-lipped and square-lipped. Hooked eat brush and are commonly psychotic (Charles Manson), aggressive (Rambo), they are instinctively man, beast and vehicle stompers. Over the years here I have seen more then a few off road rigs that got skewered by a hooked lipped, for getting too close and pissing them off, the hole is unmistakable and funny enough it always seems to be very close the driver...Hmmm not as dim as they seem.  Hooked lips are the "smaller" of the two species at a shoulder height of 5 feet and around a ton. Their gentler saner square lipped cousins, eat grass and run away from trouble rather then looking for it.  But they are taller, 6 feet at the shoulder and much, much heavier, think 1950’s Buick Special and you’ll have a good idea.)

To be generous both are ugly, trying to capture an image that is flattering is trying. Day after day I always seemed to be too close, too far, they were going away from me, mom was blocking the baby, half in and half out of the sun, deep shade, blocked by a tree or an errant clump of grass, shrubbery, baby too far from mom, mom looking the wrong way, wind shifts blowing my “clean fresh scent speed stick” up her nose, poof ghost like, gone, and on and on and on, six days and about 1000 pictures later I had some good stuff but not “the shot”.  There were lots of these:

Don't get me wrong stalking a square lipped rhino and her baby on foot trough the African bush will get your pulse rate up, it is a thrill, somehow in retrospect the 30meters between use doesn't seem to be nearly enough and sadly this as most of my images from these days are ultimately disappointing from a purely photographic perspective.

Day three I got this, it was an amazing display, the baby just started running, back and forth around mom, through the trees, across the road in front of us, forward and back perhaps, she knew that soon she would lose her speed, her lightness of being, the joy of being alive and able to defy gravity if only momentarily, replaced by life's unavoidable weight.

I got this day 4, just as the sun went below the trees.

Day 6 started well, we got down wind on a river bed as they approached, as long as we were quiet and in the vehicle they largely ignored us.

A few minutes later they passed within touching distance oblivious to us and to the truck turning up the stream bank and around behind us heading for Baugh's water hole. We followed them to the water hole but once again I was on the wrong side of the light. The water hole only has one way in through a cut bank. I saw that I couldn’t get to the right side of the light but I thought I could get positioned to capture something special as they came back out the cut bank into the river. That’s where I took this which is the shot I wanted, steady mom, scale, texture, child in motion, sunset desert dust.

Then it got interesting, I had positioned myself across the river from the water hole down, low next to a burnt out tree. I figured they would come out the cut bank and turn up stream away from the truck; instead they came right at me. I froze next to the trunk until she was about 20 feet away and then I decided I needed way more tree between her and me and moved, like a sprung tarp she charged, stopping just a few feet away, the tip of her horn almost within arm reach.  I can report the following, their horns are well polished and the tip seems exceedingly sharp. Time stopped, she spun and left at speed. My heart started again.

My friend Guy took this shot an instant after she turned to run the other way. See how smart I was with my choice of protection.....Remember when this started I was on the other side of the tree...

This last afternoon was amongst the best days of my African life, all my pipes got flushed with a massive shot of adrenaline, fear came later in equal amounts with the elation of being alive and privileged to be so close to such a beast. On our way back to the lodge our paths crossed once more. I would like to think I was already forgotten, all the while certain they would never be.


  1. Great stuff Chris! You are so lucky to be in that part of the world. This must have been such a great time!

  2. Wonderful photos Chris and, as mentioned earlier, you are so lucky to live there. I like them all but the last one, unflattering to any mom, warms my heart as it stirs up thoughts of Africa and wild beasts moving over the countyside, quietly, peacefully and safe to go about their day.

    Kudos to you

  3. Thank you very much for the thoughts and comments, I am very lucky indeed to live in such a place, although at the moment we are getting flooded, nonetheless its always interesting here.


  4. Just wow. Beyond the initial frustration it turned out to be wonderful photography.

    I confess to having a thing for rhinos. Don't know why. Had it since childhood. Even love the Adrian Belew song "Sexy Rhino", but I like Adrian in general anyway.

    Thank you for the great story and photos.