email a friend iconprinter friendly iconOn Safari in Namibia's Rhino Land
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The expedition had been co-planned by M. Sanjayan, the Nature Conservancy’s 41-year-old lead scientist, a biologist of Sri Lankan birth who now lives in Montana for the fly-fishing. The crew included two more scientists, three media, and two guides: Gary Booth, 47, a garrulous Englishman, and his Spanish girlfriend, Susana Higueras, 45. Rounding out the team were four rhino trackers, local Damara, whose native language popped and clicked with the exotic sounds of the Bushmen.

We set off across the savanna and immediately came upon a zebra skull. Frogs were hopping in the mossy wet gravel of the wash. Wild cucumber sprawled on the dirt and seed pods snapped underfoot. A lone jackal ducked into the knee grass. Rudi found a pile of elephant dung and said, "Ah, the old man’s been here." Everything was promising.

But the seeds of Rudi’s annoyance were sown early. The daily walks, estimated at a dozen miles, were hot dawn-to-dark marches and stretched upwards of 20. This might not have mattered, but we reporters and scientists, 20 or 30 years Rudi’s junior, turned out to be slow hikers. On the first night, a few clicks short of camp, one of the camels spooked and bolted into the night with the laptops and the modem. The big rains had carpeted these plains with belly-high grass whose seeds turned our legs into pincushions, and the abundance of water let the elephants and rhinos lie low in the hollows instead of congregating at the water holes where we could see them. Not that we had much energy for wildlife viewing. When on day two someone pointed out to me a pack of baboons perched on a band of granite, I gazed on through my binos but couldn’t convince the exhausted others even to break stride to have a look. The scientists had blisters and had performed little science. The photographer was bleeding from where his toenail used to be and complained that the light was too harsh. Susana had banged her knee and was hobbling with a stick, and Gary was blinded in one eye by hay fever. As for me, I had a bloody nose and a rash creeping up my calves and understood why backpacking has not gained a foothold in Africa. Everyone was hooked on ibuprofen and Claritin.

Except for Rudi. With a weather-beaten Gallic nose and the leathery face of a legionnaire, he was suited for this terrain. He emerged from his tent each morning at dawn, right as rain, his toothpick legs inserted sockless into calf-high canvas boots with wide tears along the gussets. No hat, no sunglasses, just a short-sleeve safari shirt and a shotgun on his shoulder loaded with four shells. "For the lions," he said. "One up front for noise, two with bird shot, and the fourth with ball bearings to stop him."

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  • Would give anything to do and see such wonder.
  • Rudi and Blythe are true conservation heroes whom I greatly admire and your story perfectly encapsul…
  • OMG this article made me miss Rudi so very much. Thank you so very very much.
  • Amazing story! I love it all. I wish that I could have seen it all!
  • Great story! Sundeen comes through again.
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