Working in the news business I feel so bombarded by news events that, sadly, I sometimes turn off and become indifferent to it all – earthquakes, planes crashes, floods, bombs, terror attacks, ships sinking…
Then there is a news story that unexpectedly jumps out and hits me…the death this week of Sudan, the last male white Rhino, was one such news story. Sudan’s death seems to symbolize for me the end of an era…
Since I am lucky enough to have seen a couple of white rhinos up close and in person, I want to share a little story from my teenage years when my family was living in Kenya.
During one Christmas vacation we went on a safari to the Masai Mara game reserve with the Macgillivray family from Canada. Mrs. Macgillivray was head of the athletic department at my school, the International School of Kenya, and she and her husband had three young children.
In the Masai Mara reserve we found a camp site under a big tree about a half mile down the road from a Forest Ranger’s cabin and near an area where armed guards stood watch over two White Rhinos 24/7. Already in 1978, the white rhinos were at great risk of being killed by poachers eager to cut off their horns for use for medicinal purposes, primarily made into a powder to be used as an aphrodisiac.
My family had to head back to Nairobi earlier than the Macgillivray’s and I stayed on with them to help take care of their three children.
I went with the Macgillivray’s to visit the nearby area where two white rhinos were grazing under careful watch of their armed guards. I remember wondering if it was really necessary for all these armed men to be dedicated to these two big animals. Were there really evil poachers sneaking around in the bush ready to kill them? (the answer to that has proven to be yes!)
That evening after dinner, we were seated around the campfire when we heard rustling and grunting in the bushes. Suddenly, one of the white rhinos came plowing through the bush, lumbering through our campsite and off in the dark into the grasslands on the other side.
We were momentarily perplexed and then the eminently cool Mrs. Macgillivray handed me a flashlight and said, “why don’t you walk down to the Forest Ranger’s cabin and let the ranger know that the guards must have fallen asleep and now the white rhino has wandered off. We’ll get the kids to bed.”
Back then things were different – there were no cell phones, internet, email, Facebook, Instagram or twitter. We weren’t going to try to get a selfie with the rhino or tweet about his wandering. And back then everyone, like Mrs Macgillivray, was much more cool, calm and collected.
I took the flashlight and started down the orange-dirt road to the Ranger’s cabin. I remember I could see the stars but otherwise it was quite dark. I could not hear any rhino snorting or rustling. My feet in my sneakers made soft shuffling noises in the dirt. I wondered if I might get charged by the rhino – who had not looked particularly aggressive – or perhaps pounced on by a lion. I tried to be eminently cool myself and walked quickly but did not run.
Finally, with a twinge of relief, I arrived at the cabin. The Ranger was surprised and perhaps slightly irritated to see this young girl show up. It took me a few minutes to communicate what had occurred. He was not enthusiastic about having to go out and find the missing rhino at night, but eventually he got his gun and the keys to his land rover and we headed out. I made my way back the half mile to our campfire.
Later we could see from our campsite two land rovers with their headlights on driving around the savannah trying to herd the poor rebellious rhino back to his sanctuary area.
Yes, those were the good ‘ol days when I was 13, no cell phone, just a flashlight, and a touch of spunk.
But back to Sudan…
His caretaker James Mwenda gave him a touching tribute…
“Good bye Sudan,I don’t need to say it here that I loved you. You know it well from all the talks and the moments we had together, being with you for the last few years completely changed me, and as you taught me daily I continued to teach and inspire my fellow humans to be conscious and sensitive of our environment. I promised to be your voice (I ain’t sure whether I duly and diligently fulfilled that) but I did my best.
When I look back, in my years of caretaking you, my sadness and the essence of losing you is overcome by a contentment that I gave you all the best. Sudan I don’t regret anything as deep within my heart I gave you everything.
What I regret most, is whether my fellow humanity has learned from your existence. I tried as much to help them hear you through my thoughts and the lessons I learned through our personal day to day life, though still my voice has been small, I have testimonies that you have left an imprint in the hearts of many especially those I interacted with.”
I feel so lucky to have seen a spectacular white rhino like you before it was too late.
If you are interested in other posts on those years in Kenya, check out: