With the wind direction in our favour, we crept stealthily over the rocky ground to within 75m of our quarry. Nantos was earth-coloured from dust bathing and hard to spot as he snoozed under a tree; he looked more like a giant boulder until his trumpet-shaped ears suddenly began to twitch.
Black rhinos make up for their poor eyesight with extremely good hearing. A rock shifted and he was on his feet, moody and staring in our direction. I held my breath; it was fight or flight – not for me, I’d been told not to move, but for Nantos. Luckily, he chose flight and disappeared in the opposite direction at an astonishing speed.
I was staying at the remote Desert Rhino Camp in the private Palmwag Concession, spread over 4,500 square km of Namibia’s Damaraland. It’s a joint venture between Wilderness Safaris and Save the Rhino Trust, and we’d set out at 6.30am in search of this critically endangered species, bouncing over uneven terrain while expert trackers went on foot. The Concession now holds the largest free-roaming population of black rhino in Africa and is one of few places where numbers are steadily increasing, thanks to monitoring and conservation work in tandem with three local communities.
It was a memorable end to my travels around the wild north-west of Namibia, an arid, uncompromising yet beautiful Eden that is still off most travellers’ radars. I’d learnt how black rhino had adapted to their environment by avoiding the heat of the day and eating the plentiful but poisonous euphorbia damarana with no ill effects, and how desert-dwelling lions had become opportunistic hunters, developing tougher paws and joints and relying on blood when there was no water to be found. To see all this up close felt like discovering an unseen corner of the country but, as I’d discovered, the journey here would bring me even closer to this untamed land.