email a friend iconprinter friendly iconOn Safari in Namibia's Rhino Land
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Rudi hiked with two military canteens in a canvas rucksack but rarely drank water, instead pouring it into a large, scuffed plastic dog bowl. "Tsotsi, boy, would you like to lighten my load?" he asked one of his parched Dalmatians that trotted at his side. "Drink some water, chap. I’d be most relieved."

As we waded hip-deep through the grass, dragonflies humming overhead and grasshoppers fluttering at our ankles, Rudi identified the plants in Latin, noting that it was too difficult to keep track of their common names in the three European languages—English, German, and Afrikaans—that are spoken in Namibia. We hiked to a creek that Rudi hadn’t seen flow in 19 years. The camels were stunned—it was the first time they’d experienced running water—and they knelt in the stream and attempted to roll over. Rudi held forth on a wide variety of topics, such as the problem with off-road car tourism in his beloved desert: "Southern Africans are naturally lazy bastards. We drive everywhere. We’re spoilt. Most come up here in their Land Rovers and think, It’s the old colony, and we’ll screw it once more for old times. The land gets used for 20 years, and then it’s buggered, and no one wants to come anymore."

Rudi’s short supply of tolerance for us quickly ran dry. On the third day, the cameraman got separated from the group after lunch, and when we all arrived at camp that night, he was not among us. "If he gets back he’ll have no dinner," Rudi announced. "And he can f— off to his tent." He stalked around the campfire barefoot in his field coat and shorts, cursing, sipping single malt from a plastic mug. It was getting dark. We were in lion country and a man was lost. A round of blame-laying ensued, and now Rudi exploded. "I make all the bloody decisions from here, and pity the f—er who steps out of line—I’ll blast him with the bloody shotgun!"

Gary and the trackers headed out in Land Rovers to search for the cameraman, and as the rest of the group sat around the fire, Rudi’s mood lightened. "The thing that really worries me is that we’ll have to hear Gary tell the story," he said, allowing a craggy smile, his eyes twinkling in the firelight, "and we’ll be up all night. When he comes back, Susana, why don’t you poke out his other eye?"

Into the Big-Game Grasslands

Just as the black rhino is a holdover from previous times—the Eocene epoch some 55 million years ago that heralded the ascent of modern mammals—so is Rudi an anachronism, belonging to the British colonial period of the early 1900s, in which sunburned, swashbuckling chaps roamed the African wilds for adventure. He complains about how pampered people have become, citing a volunteer who arrived from London and immediately demanded new linens on her bed, and email. "This is the bush," he told her. "We don’t have that stuff here." Our lunch rations consisted of sardines in tomato sauce, tins of Bully Beef (the corned beef that Brits ate in the trenches of Gallipoli), biscuits, and apples. On day six we crossed the grasslands through a string of green valleys teeming with oryx, zebras, springbok, and giraffes. We drank directly from pools and springs. No matter the day’s heat, Rudi had the chaps boil a kettle on a campfire and took his afternoon tea with two spoonfuls of sugar and a splash of canned condensed milk.

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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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