Lying flat and wriggling myself as comfortable as
possible, I am soon totally absorbed by the scene before me – a
black rhino going about its business in its natural habitat. And not
just any black rhino, either. It has been a long time, but thanks to
his extended foster family (Anne Whittall in particular), Jimmy is
finally back where he belongs. That knowledge fills me with
indescribable satisfaction. I watch him for about twenty minutes and
then he ambles from the clearing, into the trees and out of sight –
totally oblivious to my presence, as I had wanted. Walking slowly
back to the road, my thoughts begin wandering, to that miraculous
day two years ago, when I stumbled upon Jim, huddled in terror
beneath that bush….
It was early April, 2007, and I was doing an
anti-poaching stint for Roger Whittall on Humani, in the Save
Conservancy. Although anti-poaching is mostly a tiresome,
unrewarding and depressing task, the gamescouts had enjoyed a series
of recent successes and we were all in upbeat frame. Until we heard
that another rhino had been poached, that is.
had been out on patrol all day and only heard the news that evening.
As Roger informed me, the carcass of a poached female rhino had been
discovered by scouts that morning, in a vast mopani forest that
offsets an area of open plain known as Jurus. Reacting to the news,
Humani management and conservancy anti-poaching personnel discovered
that the rhino had been shot days before, any clues long since
erased by nature. If, indeed, there ever had been any clues – after
taking in the scene, investigators were left in no doubt that the
heinous crime had been committed by a thorough professional, and
that it was an inside job.
The poacher had known exactly where to find his
victim and had struck swiftly, during a period of wet weather. The
drizzle had fast erased all sign of his passing. One well-placed
frontal brain shot was all it took. The horns were sawn off flush
with the rhino’s face, and not one shaving was overlooked. Because
the poacher knew the conservancy identifies its rhino with ear
markings and tags, he lopped the ears off. Then he covered the
carcass with foliage to deceive the vultures and delay its
discovery, before departing as efficiently as he had committed his
dastardly deed. Was it simply coincidence that the shooting occurred
a day or two after Roger had sent that area’s scouts off for a few
days R&R? Somehow, after all the facts became known, none of us
could quite swallow that.
Although we were aware that the rhino in question
had recently birthed and had had a very young calf at heel, nothing
much was thought of it. She had been dead for several days and her
calf’s chances of survival were considered non-existent. Especially
since investigators reported an abundance of fresh lion spoor
crisscrossing the area, and no trace of the calf whatsoever. It
seemed an absolute impossibility that the calf could have survived,
and yet there was a twist in the tale. That twist was little Jimmy’s
will to live.
To this day, I don’t know what prompted me to ask if
I could go to the scene of the crime the following morning. There
was no need – the carcass and vicinity had already been thoroughly
checked over. Anyway, I just wanted to take a look and Roger thought
it a good idea. As an afterthought, Roger instructed me to take a
couple of scouts along and dig around for a bullet in the rotten
carcass – an order that didn’t exactly fill me with enthusiasm. Soon
I was on my way, with Isaac Bangai and Rindai Rindai, two trusty RWS
trackers who operate as senior gamescouts in the hunting off-season.
I have worked with Isaac and Rindai extensively and know them both
to be capable and willing fellows. As it turned out, I couldn’t have
had a couple of better guys along for the ride.
We arranged to meet with the scouts who had made the
grisly discovery, and they were waiting when we arrived in the Jurus
area an hour later. After driving a short distance further, we left
the vehicle on the roadside and entered close-knit mopani forest,
walking off in single file behind Daniel, the stick leader of that
particular patrol. There were three scouts, so we were six in total.
Great, I thought to myself, I wouldn’t need to do too much digging
around in the rotting rhino – there were plenty of hands for the
job! Can’t totally give up on the old colonial bit, you know. I
mean, who built Southern Africa anyway?
Daniel lost his way a couple of times, we came to the place. As we
approached the pathetic lump of dead mass that represented what was
once the pride of this land’s wildlife heritage, a huge lump came to
my throat. Who could do this thing, I silently wondered? All was
quiet for long minutes as we stared in disbelief at the horrific
scene before our eyes. It was a truly shocking sight and every man
amongst us felt bitter resentment. Not resentment actually – rage
and hatred. But it was wasted emotion because we were helpless to do
anything. Unless…Unless we could find something, some clue for
investigators to work with. We got to work severing the head and
I actually did assist in the gruesome labor
initially, but only to get the others inspired. After about thirty
minutes of inhaling and groping the maggot-infested, putrid flesh,
however, I decided that the others were by then well inspired and
decided to go on a little reconnaissance patrol. I informed the guys
that I was off to take a look about, suggesting that maybe I would
find a clue – the poacher may have dropped a bullet, or something?
My suggestion was met with skepticism, but it was reluctantly agreed
that finding a clue was a remote possibility. The general reaction
told me that I had about a one in a zillion chance of finding
anything, but hey, one never knows. Besides, I just enjoy scouting
about unfamiliar country. It is amazing what I have discovered in
the past by simply heading off and roaming around the woods for a
After walking a large semi-circle through the forest
for about an hour, seeing many lion tracks but nothing out of the
ordinary, I decided to return. I find it pretty easy to get lost in
the bush, and it took me a while to work out my bearings and make
off in what I kind of thumb-sucked was the right direction. Changing
tack a few times, I soon set on a course and began walking in what I
thought to be a straight line. I always imagine I’m holding a
straight line when walking in the bush, though usually that is not
the case. In fact, I don’t ever remember walking a straight line!
Anyway, I was headed where I was headed and off I went, striding
through the mopani and whistling a little ditty. Not fifteen minutes
later, I walked onto Jimmy.
was an absolute miracle that I walked onto him. He was hidden
beneath a leafy bush, and had I walked ten yards either side of that
bush I would have missed him. As it was, I almost literally walked
onto him. Taking a step, I glanced casually to my left in the same
motion, and then froze in mid-stride. I froze for only a second or
two, but much took place in that time. There was the baby rhino
lying prone beneath the bush, with only his forequarters visible,
staring wide-eyed up at me. Due to his wide-eyed expression, my
first reaction was that he was dead, and in that instant I felt the
double-whammy of loss. But then he blinked and I saw that he was
definitely not dead, just too petrified to move and risk discovery.
Although very young, Jimmy had already been given impressionable
insight into the cruel nature of human beings. I paused for only
that second or two, and then I continued on my way without any other
reaction, so as to not unduly alarm the little guy. About forty
yards further, when I was well away from him, I burst into a flat
sprint through the mopani. It was the fastest I have moved in years
and thoughts were pounding through my mind. Where were the guys? Was
I going in the right direction? How far did I walk, how far was I
from the others? As I ran, fending off whippy branches with my arms,
I tried to figure where I was, and more importantly, where the guys
were. I ran wildly for several hundred meters, before stopping to
listen for the first time. It was probably the first several hundred
meter sprint I’ve ever done! Blood was pumping through my veins, my
breathing was ragged, and I found it difficult to tune my ears to
surrounding sound. Where was I, where were they? Almost panicking, I
wanted to scream out my frustration. I closed my eyes for a minute
and allowed the blood rush to slow slightly, working my jaw and
trying to clear my ears. And then I heard the deep booming laugh of
Isaac Bangai, carrying faintly on the wind. The guys were somewhere
up ahead, slightly off to the left. Had I thought about it then, I
would have realized that I had almost achieved a straight line on my
return route. But I didn’t think about anything, because I was
sprinting off through the bush again.
The scouts appraised me quizzically as I approached
at the run and came to an untidy halt beside them. Between gasps, I
told them that I had seen a rhino in the bush.
‘Did it chase you?’ asked Isaac.
‘No, it is a young rhino.’
‘Even a young rhino can chase you,’ stated Daniel,
matter of factly.
‘It is very young,’ I said, hands on knees, getting
my breathing back under control. ‘It is the baby of this dead
‘Is it dead?’ asked Isaac, getting down to business
in his no-nonsense manner.
‘No, otherwise I would not have tried to join it in
death, by running as fast as I did to get here.’ My heart-rate was
returning to normal.
‘Let us go and catch it then.’
‘Yes, let us go and catch it.’
‘Handidi.’ ‘I won’t,’ said Daniel, ‘it will
A short argument ensued, as I tried to convince
Daniel and the other two scouts that the rhino would do anything but
bite them. It could charge them, butt them, run them over, but it
would definitely not bite them. They remained unconvinced and I
ended up with the support of only Isaac and Rindai. As it turned
out, it was probably a good thing – less is sometimes more. Without
further ado, Isaac, Rindai and I retraced my headlong flight through
the mopani. As we went, we discussed our plan of action – our rhino
Stealthily, we approached the bush where I knew the
little calf to be. Now, when I say ‘little’, I had already estimated
it to be about 50 kilograms. Although I imagined it would have next
to no strength, having been without milk for days on end, I really
didn’t know what it was capable of. Our intention was to capture the
rhino fast, with as little commotion as possible, in order to avoid
causing it more trauma than it had already endured. Above all, I did
not want to risk it getting away and heading off into the mopani. It
had survived as long as it had, how much longer could it live?
Bearing all of the above in mind, we sneaked in on whom we would
soon get to know as Jimmy, me from the front, and Isaac and Rindai
from the rear. We were well prepped and all knew what to do,
although the game-plan was not exactly complicated. It basically
boiled down to ‘grab the rhino and don’t let go!’ Actually, there
was a little more to it – I was to try a soft approach initially,
and test the little chap’s strength. But Isaac and Rindai knew they
needed to be very close when I made contact – I ensured they were
clear on that!
As I slowly and silently crept in the last few
yards, I thought it was going to be a cinch. Jimmy did not stir, but
his little eyes followed my approach all the way in. And then I was
within a yard, slowly and purposefully bending my knees, lowering
myself to his level. There was no reaction whatsoever as I squatted
down, and so I reached out my hand to touch his face. And that was
the point when I realized the capture was not going to be a cinch,
as Jimmy exploded from the ground and butted me viciously about the
knees! I toppled over backwards onto my backside, but as I went, I
grabbed hold of an ear and held on for dear life! Huffing and
snorting, Jimmy fast intensified the attack, the barrage of
head-butts crashing into my legs and torso intensifying by the
second. The fact that that month old creature possessed that amount
of power after four days without nourishment is beyond me to this
day. Whilst not a WWF wrestler or anything; I am relatively strong
and I struggled with all my strength to hold on to Jimmy for those
few seconds. The head-butting was enough to bring out bruises on my
legs the following day. What a fight he put up! Poor little guy must
have thought it was his last fight.
I was certainly on the receiving end of a serious thrashing, the tag
team fortunately wasted no time lending their weight. Within
seconds, Isaac had a back leg grasped firmly, whilst Rindai came to
assist up front. Then we dropped Jimmy like a sheep, whipping all
his legs out from under him. Once down, Jimmy began squealing
hysterically, probably assuming the fight was now really over and
death imminent. You assume animals don’t think that way?
Specifically month old animals? Let me assure you that they do.
Animals know all about death from the day they are born. Anyway,
Jimmy began squealing like a stuck pig and trying his utmost to tear
his head from my grasp. In the process, he swept me around in the
dust a little. Isaac and Rindai held onto his legs resolutely, and
Daniel and the other scouts observed proceedings from a safe
distance. During that struggle, Jimmy satisfactorily demonstrated
the awesome power a rhino possesses, specifically in the neck and
shoulder region. Three strong men struggled for minutes to restrain
a 50 kg animal that had not fed for four days, and that is almost
A semblance of order eventually came about when I
whipped off my shirt and covered the exposed side of Jimmy’s face.
Then he could not see and the crazy head threshing eased. But I
still had to clasp his head tightly to my body – the slightest
release of pressure brought about a renewed effort. Once he had
calmed a little, Daniel and the other scouts plucked up the courage
to approach closer. I barked out orders.
‘Daniel, wuya kuno!’ ‘Come here!’
must have been something in my tone that made Daniel temporarily
forget his fear of being bitten by a rhino, and he obeyed with
alacrity. I ordered him to take over Rindai’s position holding the
front legs – Rindai is a driver and we needed him to go and fetch
the vehicle. I instructed Rindai not to waste time looking for a
suitable route through the forest, but to return with all due haste.
About half an hour later, we heard him returning – from the sound of
things he had taken my instructions to heart! Soon he was revving
and ramming his way up to us through the last hundred meters of
mopani scrub. As the truck approached, I turned to Isaac who was
still patiently manning the rear end of a now fairly subdued rhino.
‘What is its name?’ I asked.
Of course, although I have been referring to Jimmy
as a ‘he’ throughout this story, we had no idea what sex he was. In
a similar vein, I have been referring to him as Jimmy, but we
obviously had no name for him. That was the case until Isaac peered
between his back legs and made a positive identification regarding
sex. Isaac did not ponder the name choice for long.
‘James. Jimmy, we shall call him Jimmy,’ stated the
Hulme is a Zimbabwean writer and professional wanderer
who spends most of his time searching for new stories
and country, never staying too long in any one place.
It was easy to agree with Isaac’s name choice: Roger
Whittall’s father, James, was known as Jimmy, and Roger’s grandson
is also named James. And so, Jimmy the rhino officially joined the
Read the second part of Jimmy’s story – ‘Raising Jimmy’ – in the
next issue of African Expedition.