Throughout my time with Great Plains Conservation in Botswana, I had some awesome experiences. Whilst in Duba, I saw the famous Duba lions on a buffalo kill, African painted dogs at their den with their pups in Selinda and lots and lots of elephants. I was also able to travel to the village of Gudigwa for a conservation workshop for children and see the people and culture along the Okavango.
However, it was in mid-august, where I embarked on my most interesting experience yet, spending a few days with the Rhino’s Without out Borders patrol team. I met the head ranger Poster and he is a really tall imposing figure, but was an absolute gentle giant and super nice guy. As we drove up from Maun to the camp, I realised he was incredibly passionate about Rhinos.
As we arrived to the camp site, I was saw that the camp was the closest thing I had imagined to what life in the military would be like. Being told that the bathroom was a shovel and toilet paper was quite the culture shock. In additional to meeting the rest of the rangers, I met the soldiers who always accompany them on the patrols, armed in case we have any encounters with poachers or any animals
Setting out on the patrol with the team was quite the experience. We drove from the camp, through tracks of mopane forest and seen many elephants along the way. The forest eventually gave away to open grasslands and lush floodplains. The landscape was just stunning. However, in this particular area, the wildlife was a bit skittish and run at the sight on a vehicle due to the poaching in the past. When tracking the rhinos, we would use tracking devices and GPS to find them. However, there were other times, where they relied on the coordinates that were given and found them just by their tracks which amazed me. Poster showed me how to know when animal tracks are fresh (if there are no bird tracks on the track then they are fresh) as well as knowing the wind direction when approaching an animal.
When we got out of the vehicle to track them, I’m not going to lie, I was a bit nervous. Walking through the bush in tall knee-high yellow grass, in lion country, your mind starts to play games with you. However, being with the rangers and soldiers reassured me. As we approached the 1st group of rhinos, my heart was racing, I was sweating from the heat and I was trying not to make too much noise. Poster instructed me to follow him and be super careful, making sure I walked very slowly and place my feet where he told me too. After an intense few minutes, we snuck behind a termite mound and there, just a few yards away, two rhinos were resting under a tree. It was such an incredible sight to see these beautiful creatures resting peacefully. As Poster climbed the mound to get a good look, I was trying to multitask and take as much video and photos as possible until it was time to leave. It was such a thrilling experience!!
We saw a few more rhinos over the next few days but they were very skittish and took off when they caught wind of us. One night Poster, myself, another ranger and solider camped away from the main camp, in a tent deep in the reserve so we could be closer to track the rhinos in the morning.
Trying to sleep that night, in the middle of the African bush like this, was tough for me. It especially didn’t help when your hear lions roaring through the night and your mind messes with you. Once the sun rose, I was never more relieved to see the light. After we had breakfast and were about to head back to camp, we saw a large pack of painted dogs walking across the floodplain. That was such an awesome, unexpected sighting to see painted dogs here, especially since we were away from the main tourist areas.
Later that afternoon, after a long, hot morning tracking rhinos, Poster took all of us down to a shallow channel for a well-deserved swim. The water was crystal clear, cold and most importantly free of crocodiles. It was truly relaxing and I can now say I swam in the waters of the Okavango.
Later that evening, Poster and I drove to an open area where I interviewed him about the many years he has worked to protect the rhinos and what it means to him, with an ostrich and kudu as audience members. Listening to him, you truly realise how much he cares for rhinos and is so passionate to protect them. We need more people like him as well as the rest the team, companies like Great Plains Conservation and people like Dereck and Beverly Joubert in the fight to protect these animals. For me to have been a part of that, for a few days, was an incredible experience that I won’t forget anytime soon.
If you’d like to help Rhinos Without Borders save rhinos from poachers, GoPro will match your donation until the end of October 2016 and help get those rhinos to safety as soon as possible. Please click here to help.