Rise and shine! The sleepy sun still has to wake and so do we. But when our lazy selves realised why we’re up so early – we practically jumped out of bed! We are tracking rhinos! After scoffing down strong coffee and some delicious dough biscuits, we were off.
On the drive from Borana Lodge, we watched the multicoloured sky welcome the sun. The hills below beautifully framed the sky. And just when I thought, could this be more perfect, an elephant enjoying a tasty acacia came into view. Seriously? Someone pinch me! And further down the road, what did we see? Two beautiful, black-maned, male lions. They were walking right beside our open vehicle! They came to pick up their two lady lionesses we had cycled past the day before. We were so close to them that we could see the amount of marks and scratches they had endured… lions have a brutal life defending their territory and family. Finally, we arrived at our destination: Borana’s headquarters.
Borana is home to both black and white rhinos. But with rhinos, there comes a price. Their horns are known as white gold, due to their high demand and therefore high market value. In fact, rhino horn is valued at US$70,000 per kilogram – that’s more than gold! An average adult white rhino has a horn worth almost US$300,000. That’s like a massive gold bar just walking around in the open bush. Unfortunately, this means many organised criminals are willing to slaughter them. As the black rhino is critically endangered and with only 5,000 of them left in the wild, immense effort in Kenya is going into protecting every single one.
Not an easy task. And not a cheap task either. The threat is so high that Borana provides 24/7 armed protection to the rhinos. To do this, scouts need to track and find the rhino’s location and rangers need to be ready and prepared to defend them. We met some of these brave rangers and scouts at Borana’s headquarters. The rangers are trained by army personal and some have had many years of experience in armed combat. After all – make no mistake – this is war.
The poaching ring has a lot of money, connections and power. In some countries, they have even been linked to politicians and officials. This means, at the end of this cruel chain, the poacher on the ground is well-armed with automatic weapons and well trained. They are prepared to kill rhinos and any human that stands between them and their white gold.
We trekked into the bush with the scouts to find some of Borana’s rhino residents. Borana is divided into sections and the families in each section need to be accounted for. After trekking for a bit, we soon found rhino faeces which had been spread all over a bush. Black rhinos are browsers meaning they eat shrubs and trees. Sometimes they defecate next to a bush, dab their feet in it and spread this scented perfume around to tell all the other black rhinos that this is their territory. We weren’t far away…
We soon saw a mother and her baby. They were alert and looking around. As black rhinos can charge easily, we had to stay at a distance of at least 100m. After admiring the duo, we left the healthy mother and baby and moved on to find a big white rhino named Gordan. We found him sound asleep on some comfy grass. We had to disturb his beauty sleep and wake him up, so that the scouts could check he was not injured. To do this, we had to get close.
Rhinos have terrible eyesight and we put this to the test! By staying downwind and standing absolutely still, we could get within 50m of him. One of the scouts got even closer, as you can see in the photo. Gordan is quite friendly, though.. he is a white rhino after all. They are larger than black rhinos but much more timid and will usually run away if scared. Being this close on foot, though, was an exciting moment.
We left Gordan to his beauty sleep and met our last family: mom, dad and baby. Watching the young one be alert and learning from his parents was just too cute! This ‘being alert’ business was too much for him, though, and he took a nap in the grass after a few minutes… mom and dad will do the rest.
Borana has been doing a fantastic job at protecting their rhinos. They have lost zero rhinos to poaching since 2015! That is a terrific success in the ocean of desperation rhinos are facing. They have an increasing population that are happy and breeding well – all thanks to the hard work of Michael and his team at Borana. We are truly impressed. Well done is not enough. We salute you all!
We are currently raising money for Save the Rhino – a fantastic organisation supporting many projects including ones here at Borana Conservancy. If would like to contribute – please visit our Virgin Money Giving Page. If you would like to know more about rhinos, click here.