6 January 2013

Africa: Thumbs Up Africa Blog 13 - Wonders of Nature

When I enter Zimbabwe, the most beautiful scene awaits: Victoria Falls. Their enormousness hypnotizes me and their depth is overwhelming. It's almost unbelievable how nature can create such a wonder.

When I enter the lodge where we're staying, I see a group of young musicians called the Chikenbus Band. They're setting up their instruments and doing a soundcheck. Tonight I have the honour to play with them and contribute my voice to matters that cannot speak for themselves.

The lead singer of the band, Tinashe, is very passionate about environmental issues. He is also a volunteer for the International Anti Poaching Organization. This organization is doing the best it can to stop poachers from killing rhinos. In fact, together we had the chance to walk along with rangers, seeing what their daily patrol looks like.

Into the bush

After spending the night in a tent in the middle of the bush - an adventure onto its own - we wake up very early and put on camouflage-coloured clothes. When everybody's ready, the rangers hold a pre-patrol briefing. "Whatever you do, never run away if an animal tries to attack you," we are told. Besides the sign language demonstrated to signal when there's a rhino, elephant or buffalo nearby, this is the most important thing he can tell us before starting our way into the bush.

After a couple minutes, the ranger shows me the tracks of a hyena in the sand. A couple of metres farther, there are the freshly made tracks of an elephant. Excitement pulses through my body.

Ten minutes later, the ranger stops to show us a long stream of pee. "This is the urine of a male rhino. He does that to mark his territory," he says. I remember how my grandfather would take me to the forest and show me the tracks of rabbits or, in a rare case, a fox or squirrel - but this is something else!

Luckily, these rhinos are still alive. This doesn't count for thousands of others that poachers kill for selling their horns. Tinashe explains how these poachers can be anyone. It can be the guy next-door who has 10 kids and doesn't see another way out of his financial problems. So next to just protecting the rhinos from the poachers, there's a way bigger problem behind it.

We follow the tracks. And indeed, after half an hour or so, we spot their large makers about 20 metres to the left. When the amazing creatures come closer I suddenly remember that they can also be pretty dangerous. One of the rangers tells me I should walk slowly to the tree a couple metres behind me and stand behind it. Luckily, the rhinos stop in their tracks and we can enjoy sight of them from a safe distance.

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