I try to keep it short this time… It happened in 1999 in Namibia’s Damaraland. The story could have turned out differently – so different that I would not have been here anymore to tell it.
One has to trust a Trust. I do have a problem trusting people who are after my money. This includes some NGOs and Trusts. Well, under these tough economical conditions everybody has to come up with survival ideas since the heavenly internet has killed hundreds if not thousands of professions that were once lucrative. Nature photography is one of the dead. If some big shot tells you that he is a full time nature PRO you know he is bs…ing. These times are over. So are the good days of many magazines. But hey, the publishers came up with a great idea: They started photo competitions. And because of the …ego of us ex nature photographers it works. They charge a fee and on top get the pictures for free. Great idea!
Back to the Trust. One Trust I do trust and that is the Black Rhino Trust in Namibia. Thanks to their enormous efforts and utter dedication we can still find a good number of highly endangered black rhinos roaming in Namibia’s wild Northwest. I was there in 1999 when they organized a black rhino census and I was allowed to participate and photograph. In our Landcruiser were four: a British volunteer, myself and yes, believe it or not – two black rhino poachers! Well, I should be precise: ex-rhino poachers who the Black Rhino Trust had turned into rhino trackers. They had been convinced that by saving the rhino they could make more money with tourism than from what they got from the Chinese for poaching. See again, it is all about money. We had not even driven 30 minutes on a bone-shattering track when one of the ex-poachers spotted a rhino with his naked eyes. Even though he pointed me in the right direction I couldn’t even spot the rhino with my binos. I was impressed. Finally I saw a tiny spot under a small scrubby tree. It was late afternoon and the British guy and I walked towards the beast- against the wind of course. My companion needed to get close enough so that he could find any special marks on the rhino for identification. Hence we approached. He said I should always hide behind a bush. But, I said, I cannot photograph from behind a bush. No problem, he said, then just don’t move in case the rhino gets up. No worries, mate! So we continued approaching. The rhino looked peacefully asleep when we were only about 300 meters away. Everything looked cool. But suddenly it got very hot when the wind changed and the rhino was inhaling the soap we had used during our last shower. The moment the black beast jumped up, my partner jumped behind a bush next to me. I kneeled down behind my tripod. Camera and 600 mm lens ready for action! And action did come – fast. The rhino charged, head down, horns pointed forward – straight towards me. My shutter clicked. Then the rhino stopped. I looked with a question mark (What should I do?) at my partner. His answer was (done with hand signs): Stay put! So I stayed put. But the rhino didn’t and charged again – straight towards me. The shutter clicked. I didn’t move. The rhino stopped again and was by now not more than around 80-100m away from me. I looked over towards my guide with another question mark on my face. This time he just shrugged his shoulders. I looked around, no big rock or tree for shelter against rhino horn. Here I want to get away from rhino horn and the Chinese seek it. What a weird world! You already know what is coming! The rhino! It charges at me for the third time. What could I do? Just sit still behind the tripod and keep shooting. No way I could outrun a rhino. It costs a bit of nerve to stay still under these unfavorable circumstances. (I must admit I had previous training in these matters. But I will get to this in future blogs.). So, while the rhino is charging, head down, horns pointed straight at me, I kept clicking the shutter. I don’t know why, but about 20 meters away from me the rhino suddenly stopped. I couldn’t even get its full head into the frame anymore. It looked at me, snorted, then turned around and ran away. And I am proud of myself that I kept my pants dry.
What I didn’t know at the time was that the image I took of the black rhino’s last charge would make me more money than any other image I have ever taken. It was bought by a big company for worldwide advertisement campaigns.