Here I am at Gondwana Game Reserve in the Western Cape, the only fynbos reserve in the world where the Big Five roam among 11 000ha of proteas and erica on the flanks of the magnificent Outeniqua mountains, not far from Mossel Bay on the famous Garden Route.
We are on a game drive somewhere in the depths of the reserve watching a big herd of sleek eland grazing on the lush grasses. It’s early evening and the folds and peaks of the mountains are bathed in a glorious golden sunset.
Suddenly we hear a helicopter buzzing overhead. Our guide, Colin, goes still and pale. In South Africa we have come to associate this particular noise with an omnipresent and growing danger – poachers.
Rhino horn is one of the most precious commodities in the world at present. And although in South Africa, a country highly rated for its conservation efforts, we know that its supposed medicinal and aphrodisiac qualities are useless – as much good as your fingernail – some countries in Asia and the Middle East still prize it.
This is a first for me after 30-odd years of going to the bush. I’ve seen lions darted before, but never 1 500kg of white rhino.
There are seven of us in the vehicle – four German tourists and two locals plus our guide. Our open-sided game vehicle has come to a stop and we sit silently listening as the noise of the chopper fades.
Suddenly Colin’s radio crackles into life. He listens worriedly. But then breathes a sigh of relief. It’s OK. The reserve vet has just darted a white rhino for medical and research purposes and she is down. Would we like to come and watch while he takes blood and gives her some precautionary jabs?
This is a first for me after 30-odd years of going to the bush. I’ve seen lions darted, but never 1 500kg of white rhino.
Our Land Rover twists and turns over and round steep stony tracks and there she is – down but not completely out.
The vet has blindfolded her and his team is working swiftly – the shorter the time she is sedated, the better for her.
Twenty minutes later it is all over. ‘Everybody get out quickly,’ we’re told as the antidote has now been given and she will very soon wake up.
We rattle off, the chopper takes off, and one large rhino begins to wake up.
A short while later our small group of travellers stands on a high hill for ‘sundowners’ – the quintessential safari tradition. We marvel at the beauty of the surrounding countryside as we sip chilled wine and G&Ts and talk excitedly of our unique experience.
But I bet that rhino has one hell of a headache...