14.04.2009 - 14.04.2009 22 °C
Matobo Hills NP
Besides being one of the most picturesque NP’s I’ve visited, it is home to the largest population of Black (26) and White Rhino (74) anywhere in the world. Boasting a superb array of birdlife and a large population of leopard the Matobo Hills protect one of the best collections of San cave paintings (many over 20,000 years old).
Ian, our guide for the day, captivated us all with his knowledge, experience and stories of Rhino encounters. I’ve never seen a group so interested in the difference between Black and White Rhino dung. It must be the way you tell it!
There is one rule normally drummed into every tourist visiting a NP - don’t get out of the vehicle. Once Ian found a Rhino trail, the engine was off and we were out. In quiet hot pursuit on foot we were weaving our way through the tall African spear grass and within minutes we were face to bum, then face to face with 2 large white Rhino! Just 10 feet away staring straight at us (apparently unseeingly) through the not very thick grass. I quickly looked round to locate my emergency climbing tree and finding none crept a bit closer to Ian. Wow.
The park has an anti-poaching shoot to kill policy and it’s hard to imagine how just 76 men armed with an AK47 each can patrol the whole park to protect these few Rhino but they kill an average of 20 poachers a month! Having walked right up to a Rhino undetected it isn’t hard to image how easily they can be killed. A Rhino horn can grow over 1.5 metres and will sell for half a million US$. Although a poacher will only see a mere fraction of this (maybe US$ 1000) it is easy to understand why they risk their lives to kill just one Rhino with the average wage in Zim being $1 a month (if you are lucky enough to have a job!).
We visited a local Ndebele village where the chief was adorned in a leopard skin from an animal that attacked him in his youth. He also wore porcupine needles around his neck and proudly showed us old grain bins hidden in the rocks where is ancestors used to store their provisions. He explained that he had 10 children, 4 of which had died of AIDS after visiting the big city and all the children in the village were his grandchildren most now unfortunately orphaned. The thatched huts had lovely rust coloured walls and were spotless inside. Goats and chickens wandered freely and the large maize crop evidence of their self sustainability. The children were beautiful, fascinated by their reflection in our sunglasses and the pictures of them on our camera screens. It’s been many years since they were visited by foreigners and we couldn’t have been made more welcome.
San Cave Paintings
Some of the oldest San cave paintings in Africa are found in Matobo Hills NP.