In July 2018 a young hook-lipped rhino (hook-lipped is an alternate name for black rhino, and the one I prefer as I think it’s a more accurate description) was seen in the Hwata area. We identified him by his ear notches as an eight-year-old bull that we call Hunzulukani. He was in poor condition and on closer inspection it was evident that he had been in a fight with another hook-lipped rhino, probably a dominant territorial male.
In the years since Hunzulukani left his mother, he would have been very cautious about where he went to feed, drink and rest during the day. Body language would have played an important role in his endeavours to exist without upsetting any territorial male whose path he crossed.
Now that he is a mature adult he is driven to establish his own territory that attracts females with which to mate and pass on his genetic lineage to calves. Establishing this requires him to change from being submissive in his approach to more confident. This change of character does not go unnoticed by territorial bulls, and with this change comes conflict. A territorial conflict would have left him in the state that we found him in, in July.
Over the past few months we’ve been seeing Hunzulukani on a regular basis near a permanent pan where he is convalescing and recuperating. We’ve seen him so regularly and frequently that we are now at the point where he has become relatively relaxed (for a hook-lipped rhino) around our vehicles. One of the things this species of rhino is notorious for is charging anything they perceive as dangerous, and being charged is a truly intense experience that usually involves a lot of adrenaline, snorting and dust.
Hunzulukani’s history and family tree is a great one. His mother, Tendai, was the second hook-lipped rhino to be born on Malilangwe, in January 1999. Tendai has given birth to six calves and Hunzulukani is her third. Tendai’s mother (Hunzulukani’s grandmother) Bangweni is still producing calves at an interval of two years and gave birth to her ninth calf last year! Bangweni likes to roam around the open areas of Banyini and hence is regularly seen by Singita Pamushana guests.
We shall be monitoring Hunzulukani closely to see his progress, and so far he seems to be healing well. However, the tendency of hook-lipped rhinos getting into fights often causes severe injuries and death. While this is natural behaviour these animals are critically endangered and we need to do everything in our power not to lose a single one. Finding suitable and safe habitats to relocate above carrying capacity stock is crucial.
I hope you’ve already eaten.
While watching a pack of African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) sleeping near a waterhole in the drizzling rain I noticed a few hooded vultures (Necrosyrtes monachus) skulking about on the ground. Every now and again they would peck at something and eat it, and I wondered what it was since vultures are scavengers, feeding mostly from carcasses of dead animals. You often see them cleaning up the scraps of meat from a kill made by wild dogs. The dogs hadn’t made a kill nearby, and so it was that my binos and big lens revealed they were eating the wild dogs’ faeces!
It is not uncommon to sit in Hwata blind and see dagga boys come to the pan and drink. Dagga boys are the old grumpy buffalo bulls who have left the ‘buzz’ of the breeding herd and often join bachelor herds of other old bulls. The name dagga boys refers to their habit of wallowing in the mud (dagga), mostly as a means of thermoregulation. These old guys are very confident in their grumpiness and often end up walking into the middle of the pan on a hot dry day.
It ended up being a remarkably fortuitous morning as we had started our drive early to look for black rhinos. I drove to all areas with the habitats that black rhinos prefer – areas with shrubs and trees and dense thickets, but with no joy.
Early one morning Jenny and I were out scouting in different vehicles to help the guests’ game drives locate key specific animals, like lions, leopards, cheetahs, black rhinos and wild dogs. At about 7 am we received a sighting update from Bravo 2, which is the main southern boundary gate that links us to Gonarezhou National Park, informing us that they had seen wild dogs frantically location calling and running backwards and forwards along the boundary area.