Chibembe, sometime in the late 1970's
My first writing assignment, the first to give me a fair wobble of stress and publishing angst, was an essay about my day, or about something from my daily days. It was a school assignment, back in the days when my mother home-schooled us via correspondence course. We agreed that I would write about a game drive. That was a typical thing we did, game drives. I remember the drive in sharp detail - that riverine road between Chibembe and Nsefu lodges. Scratchy tawny plains in between. We saw seven rhinos that day, including two calves. I didn't want to write the story about our game drive. I had an uneasy feeling about doing something so important as setting pen to paper and making words and a story about something so mundane as a game drive, and one in which no leopards were to be seen. Just boring old rhino. I think I overcame the problem by dictating the story to my mother and she wrote it down. I was suspicious of authorship, even at six years old.
Mfuwe Lodge, South Luangwa, circa 1982.
Mom wakes us early to look at the two male rhinos fighting. Locked in a struggle, in the middle of the sloshy, muddy lagoon. They try to circle one another at the pace of glaciers melting. They make strange noises I haven't heard rhinos make before. Its a Sight. A Gargantuan Battle, says one of the grown ups. They are there so long we eventually get bored of looking and go back to throwing wild mangoes at the monkeys.
On the Baobab road, circa 1983
A rhino has been poached. In the National Park and everything, so brazen. Its horns have been hacked out of its skull. Really there is no better use for the word. Hacked. I peer into the cavity of the vulture-shit-streaked hull. Inside, there are maggots. Many swarming, teeming, writhing maggots. Phil Berry, proper in his khakhi knee-highs, counts the number of maggot species. More than 11 different kinds of maggots in that rhino's belly.
On the Chinzombo road, mid 1980's
Patrick was always up for a wrestle or a wrangle, whether with a Land Rover wheel or a black-necked spitting cobra. Preferably an encounter that involved some kind of injury. I don't know if these moments helped him to be more successful with women than he would have otherwise been, but the arm-in-a-sling look was big with him. Naturally he was delighted to hear that a rhino calf had been spotted on the Chinzombo road. Ropes and lassoing and loading it onto the back of the vehicle and maybe a somersault in the air off its back, rodeo style. I wonder what happened to that baby rhino. Perhaps it got to the Frankfurt Zoo.
The Breakfast Table, mid 1980's
They are starting a thing called Save the Rhino Trust. My grandfather is asking us kids for catchy slogans. They will be making T shirts. They will be going on patrol and stuff, to try to catch poachers, but they also need to do something called Creating Awareness. Spreading the Message. So that other people who don't have rhinos on their back doorstep will care about the rhinos getting poached. Chantal suggests "My Horn is My Dilemma". She has to explain it to me. Even at nine years old I know that this slogan is not going to cut it.
The Wildlife offices, circa 1986
My mom and dad and David and Judy and Derek and Bev Joubert are making a documentary together. Its all arty and stylish Peter Beardish, but its about hunting and wildlife and human's fascination with killing animals. They ask permission to photograph the skulls at the Wildlife Offices. Piles and piles pf elephant and rhino skulls, picked up On Patrol. There's a photo of me sitting on the step of that piled high room of skulls. My face is sad.
A half-term break, circa 1987
Debbie swears she sees a rhino in the half light, that gloaming time when were are driving fast to get home and not really game viewing anymore and the combretum bushes obscure everything on the side of the road. We reverse to look but no-one else sees anything. I, for one, think she must have been mistaken. You never see rhino here any more.
It happened so quickly. Really, before anyone could really mobilize properly or come up with a decent slogan. That was in the South Luangwa National Park, where they no longer exist. In less than a decade. It is happening in South Africa right now as we speak. It really doesn't take long. I, for one, will really miss them. But no-one has time to care.