I once commented in a 2008 feature article for BBC Wildlife Magazine:
“If I’m honest, before I came out to Africa, I was worried that rhinos would be rather dull subjects. I’d just finished working with the charismatic giant otter in Peru and feared that rhinos would be grey not just in colour, but in character, too.”
I have since heard several other people express this same opinion of rhinos. Everybody knows elephants are more than cool. But rhinos? Sure, they’re impressive and endangered and all, but, well, aren’t they a bit... bovine and boring?
You see, I know now. I’ve been let in on the secret. Rhinos are not grey in character at all. Let me tell you how I came to discover this.
Not long after I arrived in Africa to help with the monitoring of a reintroduced black rhino population, I encountered a young female called Chikuse on my way to base camp. She was resting beside the road: I sensed rather than saw her grey mass when she was already behind me. I stopped the car and turned in my seat to watch her.
By now she was standing foursquare on the road, observing the Cruiser closely, her head slightly lowered, hairy ears pricked forward. After a few seconds, she began to walk towards me, placing each foot with care. The deliberate, furtive way she moved seemed familiar. It reminded me of something...
Then it hit me. She was tiptoeing.
No doubt about it. Chikuse’s whole attitude was one of impish curiosity, as though she had a plan to sneak up to the rear of the car, give a quick, hard shove with her horn, and then run off gleefully.
The sight of an animal as bulky and heavy as a rhino actually tiptoeing, like a child bent on mischief, made me grin. It didn't even occur to me she might charge.
When she was just a few feet away, she suddenly sobered up, and wandered quietly into the bushes. As I watched her solid form dissolve amongst the dry vegetation, I wondered, for a moment, if I’d imagined it after all, that spark of cheeky playfulness. But no. I felt sure I had caught her out in an unguarded moment and I still treasure the memory of it.
Rhinos are cool too.