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The Black Rhino of Matusadona

‘Psst. Wake up Rob. There’s something under our room!’

Never being one who could be accused of being a light sleeper, my wife’s frantic 2am wake-up call did little to rouse me from the land of Winkin, Blinkin and Nod. She on the other hand was up and about peering over the open-sided wall of our raised tree-house…

‘It’s a rhino… sleeping below us… no wait. It’s two rhinos!’

As if pressing a secret activation button in the dormant nuclear reactor that was my brain, the word “rhino” had the desired effect of sending Messrs Winkin, Blinkin and Nod dashing for cover as I – resembling in many ways said rhino – thrashed out of bed, joining the sleeping rhinos’ audience of one now half-hanging, head-first out the tree-house trying to get a perfect view of the mother and calf, wrapped up beside each other in the warm beach sand directly under us.

These were the beautiful black rhino, Mvura, and her youngest calf, on (what later was explained to us as) a routine visit to the quaint little camp we were staying at on the shores of Lake Kariba in the Matusadona National Park; a place aptly enough named Rhino Safari Camp. Mvura had been bred in a game park close to Marondera (Imire) as part of a nationwide breeding program for the critically endangered black rhinos that peaked in the 90s. During the “rough years” of the past decade or so, many, if not most, of these programs and the conservancies in which they were based have been closed or severely hampered. Imire has had its fair share of issues and problems but still manages to run a small program, and Mvura is one product of the incredible work being done by the Travers clan out there.

Within Matusadona is an Intensive Protection Zone (IPZ) which is situated in the section of the park in which Rhino Camp is – sort of the north-central region. Armed scouts from the National Park escort (or at least try to keep up with) the various rhino within the IPZ, and from all accounts there is a moderate degree of success. We encountered 2 rhino on our first visit to the Camp in May this year and 3 during a later safari in September. We also encountered the armed scouts who were nothing if not friendly and seemingly well organised. There have been issues before we were told, but this year a new sheriff is in town in “The Matuse” (when in Rome…), and he and his Parks’ team seem to be doing a much better job at protecting and monitoring the black rhinos’ progress. Most of the known individuals in the IPZ have had their horns removed by the vet (including ‘wild’, non-captive bred ones like this calf’s father). It’s surprising how this small aesthetic modification changes the whole picture of this ancient and (it has to be stated) magnificent being. Sort of like seeing a tuskless elephant or a stripeless zebra. But the crooked game of survival has never been a major-league fan of aesthetics… just ask the dinosaurs.

There will surely be many more posts and articles written about Matusadona, as old areas that used to be very popular with tourists (especially walking and exploring the hills at the back) start opening up again. New camps, as well as old moth-balled ones that are set to re-open, will also entice visitors back here. The classic old houseboat safari is also an experience on which a whole separate post will be dedicated, as this is a brilliant way of enjoying the massive Dam-which-is-called-a-Lake Kariba. But I really wanted to share a little taster at this stage; bringing your attention to the wonders of this once-hugely popular area, and those magnificent beasts who frequent it: the black rhino of Matusadona. Right now, the best place to enjoy them from is most certainly Rhino Safari Camp, and in the company of an experienced Zim guide. With the future of the rhino under such scrutiny at the moment, one might be advised to get there sooner rather than later. After all, Mvura and her gang are probably keeping your bed warm as we speak…

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