Thursday, 5 September 2013

Africa Day Four: Stalking rhinos

We spotted a single rhino on day two but could not really get a good sighting on him. Having a massive telephoto lens is never the answer if the critter is more than 100 foot from you, or worse, obscured by grass and other vegetation. Thinking of buying a big telephoto lens for a safari? It’s a great idea but even if it has a massive 500mm+ zoom range, is relatively ineffective for animals that are more than 100 feet away. Any further and even an 800mm lens is a waste of time. Unless you like black pinpricks on the horizon…

Natalie looking slightly nervous being escorted by our
tracker, Brilliant in the direction of three two-ton rhinos
Day four and we swung round a bend in the track and spotted what I thought were three elephant on the road a kilometre in the distance.  Getting closer those three elephant morphed into three large rhino, a fantastic sight. By the time we crept up to their level 50 metres away they were well and truly nervous so sort of trotted into the bush.  We drove a couple of kilometres round the block, edging our way along a  track bordering Kruger from the Manyaleti concession and waited for them to come past for ten minutes. Nothing happened so we backtracked and stopped mid-way back from the direction we came.  Our guide and tracker disappeared into the scrub for ten minutes, then reappeared from the scrub and signalled us over.
We did so with some trepidation. After all, these were the largest rhinos we'd ever seen. Natalie and Brilliant, our tracker, hid behind a small cluster of trees and I went up ahead with Anton, our guide. We literally crept up on the three  nervous-looking rhinos using the lee of an old termite mound for cover (it was only four foot high and five foot wide, so I was unsure of how much 'protection' Anton thought it would afford in the event of a charge from a 2,800kg rhino).

Canon EF 100-400mm, 1/1000s @ f6.3

We got within 70 or 80 metres of the trio. They'd clearly scented us and were nervously looking in every direction, particularly ours, but, because rhinos have relatively poor eyesight, they hadn’t actually seen us. Anton called (a loud whisper) Nat and Brilliant over to us and we huddled behind this (tiny) mound for five minutes shooting pictures of these prehistoric looking animals. Even with a 400mm lens it was hard to get a decent angle, let alone fill the frame.  We couldn't move and they remained partially hidden among the trees. After a few minutes they moved nervously forward towards us. We managed around 10 shots of them emerging from cover but then they got even more nervous and started moving quickly towards us at an increasing speed. Anton clapped his hands rapidly while remaining hidden and this sudden unexpected noise sent them veering off into the bush at right angles to where we were crouched. They disappeared after a few seconds.
A nervous moment for all of us but a thrilling rhino encounter nevertheless...

Canon EF 100-400mm lens, 1/1250s @ f6.3, ISO 400

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