by Tracy Lee May

It began when we heard a report of gun fire early

one morning. We initially learned that poachers had made an attempt on a rhino, breathing a sigh of relief when we heard the poachers had been unsuccessful in killing one of these wonderful animals. How wrong we were.

A couple of weeks later we received an update informing us that a rhino, fondly know to us as Ntombe, had been sighted with gunshot wounds, believed to have been caused by that poaching attempt. The parks department went into action immediately; a vet was called and Ntombe was darted in a desperate attempt to save her. Sadly, her injuries were too severe and after all possible efforts were made it was decided to end her suffering.

Her body was burned where she had laid down for the last time. Ntombe was a well-known rhino, and all of us who guided here were very fond of her. She had gained international fame a few years ago when she appeared on Animal Planet’s “Katrina: Wild on Safari” television series. She was only eight years old and left behind her first calf, a one year old female. Could she survive without her mother? We really doubted it but kept hoping for the best.

The day after Ntombe’s death, I was asked to guide a group into the park. My colleague and I were very downcast as we trudged through the bush looking for Rhinos. Ntombe had been a favourite with both of us and we were worried about her calf. When we came across the rhinos grazing peacefully in some thick scrub, our guests were understandably excited; it’s not often one is able to get so close to such magnificent, peaceful giants. We sat quietly watching them when suddenly through a gap we spotted a small rhino nervously scouting the edge of the group. Could it be… had fate rolled the dice and come up trumps? We could not know for sure, because at that moment the Rhinos moved off and we could no longer follow them.

We decided to end the day by climbing one of our favourite hills, hoping we would get lucky and spot the calf again. We climbed the hill and sat on the highest rock scanning the area unfolding before us. Wildebeest, Impala and zebra grazed nearby, the birds sang their evening chorus and the sun dipped towards the horizon, casting a golden hue on the boulders. For a moment everything seemed right in the world again, but to our left a thin whisper of smoke rose into the air, a sad reminder of what was left of our magnificent, beloved Ntombe. Darkness crept across the land as we left the hill, mirroring the feeling in our hearts.

Although I have not seen Ntombe’s calf, I do hope that each time I go out to the Matopos that I will see her. I have been told by the other rangers and scouts that she has joined another female rhino – Number 44 – who recently had a calf of her own. This calf must be at least three months old now and seems happy to have another older calf with her. Number 44 will not allow Ntombe’s calf to suckle, but she is old enough to survive without milk. She still, however, requires the guidance and experience an adult will give her. We hope that beautiful Ntombe’s legacy will live on in her calf.

Born and bred in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, Tracy Lee May has worked and lived in a number of national parks in Zimbabwe and Zambia. Married with two children, both of whom have a deep love of the bush, Tracy is passionate about the Matopos and its resident rhinos. She is a leaner guide, photographer and a writer.

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