Today is our last full day/night on tour before we return to Johannesburg tomorrow. We are heading south through Botswana to visit the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, the only remaining place in Botswana with rhinos. By the 1980s, rhinos in Botswana had been poached to near extinction due to the value of their horns, which are smuggled to Asian countries for use in eastern medicinal practices. The sanctuary in Serowe was established to try to save the rhinos in 1989, and is located on the fringes of the Kalahari Desert close to a base for the Botswana Defense Force, who provide protection for the rhinos. This area used to be known for hunting, but the locals now participate in a community-based education and conservation project to save the rhinos. Starting with just one white rhino donated by South Africa, the sanctuary now has over 40 rhinos, 5 of them the critically endangered black rhino.
As the rhino is an endangered species, we have only seen one on our two-week trip so far, and it was hidden deep in the bush of Kruger and difficult to view. Anxious to see rhino, on our way in we have close encounters with a wildebeest, zebra, and kudu. Slowly making our way through the savannah, we come upon several rhinos with their young, relaxing at a watering hole. They are surrounded by springbok and red hartebeest, and soon even jackals join the crowd to cool off during the hot afternoon. While in the park, a military patrol passes by, continuing to offer protection after over 20 years of successfully keeping watch over the sanctuary.
On our way out, we pass a critically endangered black rhino that has been isolated in his pen. He recently fathered three calves with the sanctuary’s only female black rhino, and has been isolated so the rangers can introduce four new black rhinos on their way in from South Africa. The males are very territorial, and they want to give the new rhinos time to adapt before releasing “Naughty”, as he is called, back into the park.
The white and black rhino are not actually distinguished by their color, but instead by their lips. The white rhino has a square lip, and is a grazer, eating mostly grass in the open savannah. The black rhino has a hooked lip, and is a browser, feeding on the leaves of trees deep in the forest. As we leave the park, we see a school group on their way in to spend a night. The sanctuary has dorms where students can stay during their visit, as education is an important part of their protection plan for these endangered animals.
We eat our last dinner as a group back at our lodge in Serowe, and prepare to make the long drive across the border and into South Africa the following morning.