Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Rhino Saga

Matobo National Park, October 23, 2012

We could almost hear the adolescent rhino whining, "C'mon, Mom, get up. Let's goooo!"

But her mom was having none of it. Mom and baby white rhino were content to continue napping.

We were in the 3000 square kilometer Matobo National Park outside Bulawayo in southern Zimbabwe, with one of the largest populations of white and black rhinoceros. The afternoon was cloudy and cool, weather that encourages wildlife to be out in the open rather than in the trees, seeking respite from the heat.

Mom didn't even open one eye, so the young rhino backed up to her, trying to push her up. Tonnage-wise, the youngster was at a disadvantage. Mom didn't budge.

Next idea: lick Mom's behind. Big butt, little tongue. Not very effective.

Next move: bite Mom's butt. That got her attention.

Up she came, along with the baby. The trio ambled over to get a closer look at the people observing them, then trotted off into the bush, the teenager finally getting her way.

Unfortunately, this little family is probably doomed. Our guide told us that, because of increasing poaching for the soaring black market in Asia, where ground rhinocerous horn is believed to cure hangovers, the animals may be extinct in 10 years. Even if conservationists remove the horns, these rhinos may be killed since poachers don't want to waste time tracking a rhino that will yield no horns.

Visiting Apartheid

Johannesburg, October 20, 2012

On our second day in South Africa, Nancy and I found ourselves on Vilakazi Street in Soweto (SOuth WEst TOwnship). This modest street has been home to two Nobel Peace Prize winners, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, who lived within a couple of blocks of each other.

Mandela House
Mandela lived on Vilakazi for eleven years with his first wife and for a short time with his second wife, Winnie, and their children. He went underground, was arrested for his anti-apartheid activism, and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Winnie continued to live in their home with their daughters. Upon Mandela's release from prison after 27 years (1990), he returned to this house for 11 days before joining Winnie in a more private neighborhood. Their little 2-bedroom home is now a museum.
Under a tree in the small garden are buried the umbilical cords of Mandela's four children, a common practice in South Africa. Inside the house, Winnie had a wall built between the tiny living room and tinier kitchen so she and the children could take cover when police and troublemakers would shoot into the house.

Black Madonna, Soweto
At nearby Regina Muni Catholic Church, we saw bullet holes, where police dispersed anti-apartheid demonstrations from outside AND INSIDE the sanctuary. The guide pointed out the pew where Bill and Hillary Clinton sat, and had Nancy stand on the spot where Michelle Obama spoke in June 2011, near a beautiful portrait of the Black Madonna

Apartheid Museum segregated entrances
Near the city of Soweto is the Apartheid Museum where each visitor's ticket randomly identifies the holder as either white or non-white. I had to enter through the white gate while Nancy had to enter through the non-white gate. We were eventually joined, but it gave us a taste of the fanatical segregation documented inside
The stark, concrete and metal interior echoes the detention facilities of the apartheid era. Searing exhibits trace the history from 1948, when the first laws were passed, through the terrible years of ever-increasing oppression, until 1990 when the laws were rescinded and Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

The new government, with input from all levels of society, passed a Bill of Constitutional Rights that leaves the one drawn up by our Founding Fathers looking pretty thin. For instance, it bans discrimination based on marital status, gender, and sexual orientation as well as race. With same-sex marriage legal in South Africa, Nancy and I are legally married for our 4 days here

While it was a visit to a wrenching past, the Apartheid Museum was ultimately uplifting in its celebration of resistance to oppression.




Zooming in Zimbabwe

               Over the next couple of weeks, Nancy and I will be posting reports on our 3-week adventure circumnavigating Zimbabwe, exploring four World Heritage sites and one of the Seven Wonders of the World, going on over a dozen game drives, seeing "the big five" and other African wildlife, and spotting over 100 species of birds new to us.
               We had hoped to post reports on the road, but the internet connection in both South Africa and Zimbabwe were very poor...and many nights we were just too tired to write.
               On Oct. 18 we began our adventure in Johannesburg, South Africa, where we stayed four days to recuperate from the 15-hour flight from Atlanta, GA. We joined the rest of our group:
Canadians John & Louise (front row), Nancy & Becky (middle), and Canadians Eleanor and Dick (top row),
               The next day we all flew to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, to join our guide, Gary Clegg (a native Zimbabwean, the owner of Shumba Tracks African Safari, and our neighbor in Costa Rica), and his British assistant, Kelly Geoghegan, head of a literacy program in Zambia.
              The eight of us traveled in a van, with our luggage stowed in a trailer. Gary drove and Kelly navigated on suprisingly good highways. The dirt roads into the national parts were another story!

Our Mercedes van and trailer at an overlook in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe
               We'll start with our brief stay in Johannesburg and then go to Zimbabwe. For a taste of the wildlife to come....
Mother elephant warning us away from the babies, Gonarezhou National Park