An Encounter in Tanzania with a Rare and Ancient Animal

No 2

A dubious distinction: The black rhino (diceros bicornis) is the most endangered large mammal in Africa. Abundant in sub-Saharan regions until recently, it is alarmingly close to disappearing altogether. The main reason for this has been poaching, for rhino horn is highly sought-after in Asia on account of its perceived medicinal properties. Within this formidable and ancient animal's decline, then, resides a tragic irony: a feature that helped deter would-be predators for millions of years has, in an age of firearms, become a mortal liability.

The black rhino is smaller than its African cousin, the white rhino—which is also at great risk—and is distinguishable for its hooked lower lip. (Both species are almost identical shades of gray.) Despite its heft, the rhino is said to be the least dangerous of Africa's so-called Big Five. It eats only plants, and is extremely near-sighted. According to the naturalist and writer Peter Matthiessen, an angered rhino “will often thunder past its target and keep right on going until, at some point in its course, having met with no obstacle and having forgotten what excited it in the first place, it comes to a ponderous halt.”

In 2010, in the largest relocation effort of its kind, six black rhino were flown from a South African conservancy to Tanzania's Serengeti National Park, where the species has been hunted virtually to extinction. Within a year, poachers killed one of them. And so this animal, seemingly invulnerable in previous eras, struggles to survive the present one.

Credits

  • Director - Oliver Hartman
  • Producer - Darrell Hartman
  • Text - Darrell Hartman

Stay connected

To people & the planet