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Digital Subscriptions > Travel Africa > October-December 2017 (80) > Glorious armoured giants

Glorious armoured giants

Powerful, prehistoric and precious, the rhino is one of Africa’s most iconic creatures, symbolising the struggles and successes of African wildlife conservation. In a series of short articles, Lauren Jarvis looks at the threats to its survival, and meets the people battling to protect it

Eye to eye

There can be nothing more exhilarating than the thrilling experience of coming face to face with a rhino on foot

We walk in silence for an hour, every snap or crunch of Africa’s sun-scorched bush ricocheting through the burning air like a gunshot. Sound and smell could betray us here, in this vast expanse of the Sera Conservancy in northern Kenya, and while I keep my eyes to the ground, dodging branches and side-stepping leaves, my Samburu guide Sammy is watching the wind.

Shaking a sock, a wisp of ash floats south before he signals me to move on, slow, silent, single file, and then: Do. Not. Move. A thorn-laden acacia, just 20m ahead, begins to shake violently. The perpetrator is hidden, but undoubtedly huge. I stand, transfixed, seesawing inwardly between excitement and fear, my body wrestling with its primeval, protective response: fight or flight?

A look from Sammy vetoes both. Suddenly the thorns are stilled, and from behind the tangle of bush comes a horn. heavy, curved and most-coveted. Shortly behind is an immense, nonchalantly noble head, followed by a one-ton, leathered and battle-scarred body, as old as the Earth itself. I hear my own intake of breath and the head swings in my direction, ears forward; gentle, ancient eyes trying to work out what I am: friend or foe. I’m standing face-to-face with one of the rarest animals on the planet. He doesn’t see me but I see him, and he’s more magnificent than I could ever have imagined.

A warrior, a wanderer, an icon. A link to our past and a symbol of our future; an animal loved by millions and a victim of human greed. Everything that’s right with our world and everything that’s wrong; everything we could hope to gain and everything we could lose. I see him for just a minute, before he turns and is gone.

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About Travel Africa

20th Anniversary themed edition: The changing nature of the safari experience • Including saving the rhino; 20 must-see places of the future; Peace park success; the rise of conservancies; power to the people; urban tourism; safari accommodation... and so much more!