BBC Wildlife Magazine
Change of view
A trip to see greater one-horned rhinos in southern Nepal left Celia Jones regarding trees in a very different light.
The river separating villagers from the jungle in Chitwan, southern Nepal, was blanketed in fog as we set off for an early morning safari. The guide standing atop our canoe used his oar to gently tap away the gathering crocodile snouts, their eyes lighting up like constellations against the murky backdrop.
Chitwan is famous for its Bengal tiger population and its crashes (yes, that’s the correct collective noun) of greater onehorned rhinos. I was there, with my partner, to see the latter.
We alighted on the far riverbank and briskly walked to the safety of an open-top jeep, where the guide laid down the rhino rules of the jungle.
Rule number one: if a rhino starts hurtling towards you, zig-zag towards the nearest tree – a rhino’s armoured body is too cumbersome to make sharp turns. Rule number two: climb at least 2m – a rhino is too heavy to raise its head. Rule number three: never get too close – these beasts have famously bad tempers.
As we rumbled through the jungle,
I was reassured by the apparent rhinoproof qualities of the surrounding trees: broadleaved and knobbly for easy climbing; sturdy to hold off against gouging by that great horn; and tall, allowing space to escape. Yet, even though the prospect of being close to a rhino was mildly terrifying, I was concerned we wouldn’t see any at all – the year before, a monsoon had washed several of these two-tonne beasts across the border to India.
My worries were unfounded. Every hour revealed yet another sighting – and almost every animal was utterly unfazed by our (firmly in-vehicle) presence. Even from a respectable distance, we could admire the flicking of fringed, antennae-like ears, and observe the gentle nudging of a mother to her youngest son, her horn tenderly pushing him into shrubbery and away from the sharp rays of the midday sun.
Memories of the rhinos at Chitwan will never leave me – I’ve since been unable to walk past a tree without wondering whether it’s rhino-proof. London’s parks will never be the same.
Even from a distance, we could admire the flicking of antennaelike ears.