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WATERBERG, NAMIBIA

Wild times in the Lost World

by Hugh and Midori Paxton

The scene looks straight out of Jurassic Park. Huge vehicles thrash through the churned earth burdened with winches and cranes, steel crates and giraffes. Tough guys in uniforms bellow instructions or saunter about holding guns, netting, ropes to restrain buffalo, and all sorts of other neat “boys’ toys” stuff.

A Bell Jet Ranger helicopter buzzes the bush with a sniper dangling out of the open door poised to thwack a single dart (packing enough dope to whack 100 human adults) into a rhino’s leathery rump. Agitated animals bellow from behind stout wood-pole enclosures . . .

Heck, even the location fits like a glove!

We literally are on top of a Lost World — the Waterberg, a vast plateau all but sealed off from the rest of Namibia by sheer cliffs that tower 200 meters over the surrounding plains.

This plateau has history. It witnessed a genocidal war between German colonial forces and the rebellious Herero tribe. The Germans were annoyed by the Hereros: (1) not repaying the money they’d borrowed; and (2) castrating Germans. The Hereros: (1) didn’t want to repay their loans; and (2) did want to castrate more Germans.

Herman Goering’s daddy was involved in the altercation. Result? Germans: Won. Hereros: Nil (apart from the ones who ran away, whose descendants are still agitating for compensation).

The Waterberg has dinosaur footprints, too. And it’s even been conjectured that dinosaurs survived up here long after they’d disappeared elsewhere. The isolated ecosystem is certainly unique.

Furthermore, because the cliffs form a natural “prison,” the plateau makes a perfect place to relocate disease-free or endangered species for breeding purposes.

They can’t get down, and poachers (and other viruses) can’t get up.

* * * * *

The activity ceases. After nearly three months, the boma (holding pen) is complete. It is the finest rhino boma ever to be constructed anywhere in the world. The designers scoured southern Africa for good boma ideas and put the best together.

Good result!

* * * * *

Now all we need are the stars of the show.

And here comes the first!

Another mud-bespattered lorry lurches into sight and reverses up to the boma gate. Its crate slowly tilts as a hydraulic lift is engaged. Its infuriated occupant seems hellbent on smashing the door.

“Should that aluminum stepladder be in that boma?” I wonder aloud.

The men pull back the bolt, opening the crate. For a split second there is silence. Then wowza! The black rhino emerges.

It decides, very definitely, and immediately, that that stepladder should not be there! In nanoseconds of charge, slashing horns and stamping feet it utterly destroys the offending item. Hacks it to pieces. Obliterates it.

This gratuitous violence is a trifle unfair. The stepladder is not just an innocent victim but was actually trying to help. Only minutes earlier it had assisted some amnesiac electrician to make a few final adjustments to the infrared heater wiring, thereby ensuring that the rhino wouldn’t catch pneumonia. Rhinos in enclosures do that if the temperature drops below 6 degrees.

But hey! As they say, no good deed goes unpunished.

That ladder is mince!

* * * * *

I’ve seen a lot of black rhinos during my time in Namibia. This is, after all, the best place in the world to see them (there are more here than in any other country; 33 percent of the global population, in fact).

And if you put a little time and effort into your Diceros bicornis quest, sightings are all but guaranteed. Okaukeujo in Etosha National Park usually puts on a decent show. Halali, also in Etosha, offers good competition. In Damaraland you can even see them on foot or from the back of a camel with the Save the Rhino Trust.

Yes, I’ve seen a lot of rhinos. And I’ve heard the “angry blacks” stories. Black rhinos are half the size of white rhinos (the biggest grazing animals to exist in the post-prehistory of our planet), but twice as belligerent. When Britain’s trains first started rolling from Mombassa to Nairobi, the rhinos charged straight at them, horns to the fore and to hell with the consequences.

I’d never seen an angry one before, however. Now that I have, take my advice: Do not annoy one.

And if a black rhino decides to charge you, don’t try to escape by climbing up a stepladder!

* * * * *

“OK,” you are no doubt thinking, “all this rhino-capturing sounds exciting (albeit potentially fatal). But what’s it got to do with me, a normal safari tourist? Surely this column should be confining itself to practical advice? Not blathering on about game captures on a prehistoric plateau that is obviously off limits to the average chap?”

Fair comment. I’ll come to the point.

Firstly, you can visit the Waterberg. There is a rest camp at its base with excellent bungalows, lots of elfin Damara dik-diks nibbling the lawns and some seriously delinquent baboons that will steal your food and crap on your car. You can even hike Waterberg (allow four days and expect to be escorted by an armed ranger).

Secondly, and more to the point, Namibia is not just the best place in the world to see black rhinos. It is also the best place in the world to buy black rhinos.

Or, if you are feeling self-indulgent, a black rhino plus an additional herd of buffalo (foot-and-mouth disease-free), a really nice giraffe, sable antelopes (all equipped with phenomenal horns), a roan antelope (probably stick to one is my advice; these roans are expensive) . . . and a whole lot more.

Think of your kids’ delighted smiles when you inform them that, yes, you’d considered giving them the latest Barbie and Ken dolls for their birthdays, but have instead opted to buy them a breeding group of six exceptionally rare and fantastically life-threatening black rhinos capable of thundering through a Kenyan locomotive!

* * * * *

Biannual game captures and auctions are organized here by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism to raise funds for Namibia’s national parks. One recently took place, hence the game captures. I’d turned up with high hopes of procuring the black rhino group, but to my sorrow they fetched $305,000 a head. My piggy bank simply wasn’t up to the challenge.

Maybe two years from now I’ll be a player — when I’m a best-selling author.