Walking with rhinosaurs

The next day on the way back to Kampala, our tour visited a rhino sanctuary. Rhinoceroses had been previously found throughout Murchison and other areas of Uganda but during the conflict of the Amin era and battles with the LRA, soldiers had funded their activities by poaching rhino and elephant and  hunting other animals for bush meat. The wildlife of Uganda was devastated, and rhinos were completely wiped out. The sanctuary, breeding rhinos imported from Kenya and US reserves, hoped to build up its population to a level that would allow them to start reintroducing them into Murchison within 10-15 years.

When we arrived we had to order lunch. The best option for Sam was chicken and potato, a meal he would normally tolerate well. For some reason he jacked up and chucked a wobbly about it while we got a debrief on our walking tour of the rhino sanctuary. This was bad timing.

The owner of the sanctuary came over to check with me that Sam would be alright.‘Are you sure this is safe with your son? These are wild animals.’

‘Yes, he will be fine.’

‘He mustn’t run away you know, there are protocols to follow if the rhino’s body language changes.’

‘Yes I know, I will make sure he understands.’

We were told there were three options if a rhino charged towards you. Hide behind a tree, hide behind bushes or climb a tree. This didn’t seem to me to be a great set of options, but apparently rhinos have very poor vision and if they can’t see you they will stop. If you run away and are moving, they are more likely to see you. I rammed this information home to Sam repeatedly, as well as the importance of not making noise.

The group walked in single file, a ranger in front, a ranger at the back, and Sam behind me. Within five minutes we spied two adult females grazing on the short sharp grasses. I was amazed how close we could get, within ten metres. It was breathtaking, exhilarating, uplifting. Sam behaved perfectly, his face also lit up in awe at the beautiful creatures.

Back on the bus, the tour group was abuzz with various takes on the experience, comparing photos and teasing each other about who was most frightened. I think it was me; it wasn’t Sam. Juma, our guide and driver, sat Sam up next to him on the three hour drive back to Kampala.

‘Hey Sam, do you know you are a mzungu?’

‘What is a mzungu?’

‘A white person. I am not a mzungu. I am black.’

‘You are Sirius Black.’

‘What?’

It was difficult trying to explain to Juma who Sirius Black, Harry Potter’s godfather, was. Juma pushed on, repeatedly trying to start up conversations with Sam on the way back, teasing him by pointing out short haired African children (a phobia of Sam’s) whenever he spied them, wazungu in the crowded streets, and various oddities and sights he saw.

He reminded me of Gabriel back in Namibia. This was the type of interaction I felt was perfect for Sam. A personable guy from a completely different culture trying his hardest to communicate with my boy in an unfamiliar and unpredictable environment. Gold.