Travel in Zimbabwe: Rhino Conservation at Rhodes Matobo National Park

Rhodes Matobo is a national park near Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

IMG_20170227_172252_056It’s named for Cecil Rhodes, founder of the former Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe), and for Matobo, or the ‘bald heads’, which are a collection of white granite boulders that are dispersed throughout the park’s hilly landscape.

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white granite boulders or kopjes, surrounded by lush green vegetation

Rhodes Matobo National Park is well-known for having the densest population of leopard in the world, and also for restocking the black and white rhino species, both of which are currently on the brink of extinction.DSC_0415 - EditedBoth black and white rhinos are actually gray in color. What differentiates them is the shape of their lip. Black rhinos have a pointed lip to pick fruit from branches, and white rhinos have a wide lip, which enables them to graze for grass.
gggNow, one of the most exciting parts about visiting Rhodes Matobo is the chance to go on a walking game drive. Yes, you have the opportunity to greet these wild creatures on foot! 😮

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walking on foot to find rhinos

Our guide for the day was Ian, who was like the Crocodile Dundee of Africa. 😛DSC_0402 - EditedWe also joked that he had legs like a supermodel. 😛

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legs for days

He grew up in these hills, knew all the rhinos by name, and even talked to the rhinos when we finally found them! 😮

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the best seat for spotting rhino 😉

To spot the rhinos we drove around in 4X4 jeeps, driving through flowing rivers and bumpy dirt roads.20170227_105625(0)20170227_114921Jokingly someone added that everyone in Zimbabwe had a PhD in driving, which is short for pot hole dodging. Hah! Here’s Ian, standing at the driver’s seat, one hand on the wheel, searching for his rhino friends. This guy does not mess around! 😮20170227_123829While driving around Ian told us about the diminishing rhino population, which is primarily due to poaching. Sadly, according to a recent article by the Daily Express, an estimated 3 rhinos are killed PER DAY. 😮DSC_0427The name rhinoceros means ‘nose horn’, and it’s believed by some Eastern cultures that the rhino horn helps to improve male performance. For this reason, poachers come from all over the world to kill the rhino and saw the horn off.

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two gentle females, calmly standing in the park

Rhino horn is sold at about 60,000 USD per kilo, which makes a horn worth about 1 million USD! The sad part is, that rhino horns are similar to a fingernail. They are not attached to bone, and they can be safely removed using an anesthetic, without harming the animal. This is also more profitable, since the horn will grow back in 10 years time. Despite this humane option and future income potential, poachers opt to kill the animal anyway. 😥

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male rhino walking away from our group

To combat this poaching problem, the national park has a ‘shoot to kill policy.’ Statistically they shoot around 25 poachers PER MONTH; however, the rhinos are still being killed at a much higher rate. They estimate the species to be extinct in about two years time.

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their bodies appear almost prehistoric

Another way the park deters poachers from killing their rhinos is by sawing off their horns using anesthetic. This plan is not full-proof though, as the horn stump left behind can still bring in about 10,000 USD. For that reason, poachers have been known to kill them for their stump. 😦

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horn removed by the national park team

Anyway, during our drive through Rhodes Matobo, we were able to find two females in the park. Everyone in our group got off to follow them. Our guide recommended that we crouch as we approached them, to appear less threatening.
DSC_0420Surprisingly, as we were walking towards the female rhinos, a male rhino came charging through the bush! 😮
DSC_0407He obviously had no intention of hurting our group. He was on his way to flirt with the girls. 😛DSC_0423 - EditedSadly, the girls were not interested. Ian noted, that for a female to become interested in mating, she needs to see two males fight each other. Since there were no other guys around to fight, this male got rejected. Here’s a short video of our rhino encounter. You can see him getting frustrated in the end and leaving. You can also hear our guide speaking rhino, which helps calm the females. 😮

Other highlights of the drive included learning all about the various flora and insects in Rhodes Matobo. For example, this butterfly plant actually gives off a bitter taste after being eaten too much, which deters animals from consuming it in its entirety. DSC_0406Also, if it weren’t for these dung beetles that eat and roll the animal’s poo, the poo would harden and cover the ground, making it difficult for new plants to grow.
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Nature really is incredible, and this tour really helped realize how important it is to protect our plants and wildlife. Hope you enjoyed this post. Up next I’ll be highlighting the best of Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Stay tuned to hear all about it. Until then. 🙂

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