Monday, February 12, 2007

Morani: The "Tame" Black Rhino

Morani is about the same age as I am. I met him in Sweetwaters Park in Kenya in 2005. He has armed guards who watch out for him 24/7, since he is an endangered black rhino and he is very susceptible to poaching for his very large horns. (The smaller one is about the length of my forearm, the longer one is longer than my arm). He is especially vulnerable because unlike most black rhinos, he likes and trusts people.
This is Morani coming towards me as I am standing there, hoping they were serious that he is pretty tame. I found Kenyans easy to understand, but I had to listen very closely due to the strong accents in their English, and it was interesting that their voice inflection while speaking English was minimal. "That is poison, don't touch it" is said exactly the same way as "It's time for dinner," and I learned early on in the trip to PAY ATTENTION and always assume that someone might be warning me of danger, because at least 10-15% of the time they actually were. I had caught "Watch out for his head" and "The horns are very sharp, stand only on the side" and "He can't see you well, stand next to his eye or you can get gored by mistake" before Morani came ambling up to me. It was just me and the guards and my guide on a sunny, late October afternoon.
Morani seemed very friendly indeed. Apparently his story is that he was raised by man when his mother was killed, and released back into the wild twice, but each time had back encounters with adult male rhinos who injured him badly. Since man kept nursing him back to health and feeding him, Morani apparently decided it was easier to hang near people than to fend without them. So, although he forages for food and isn't really enclosed, he comes voluntarily to a man made shelter at night. He's no dummy - he likes sleeping with armed guards. Who can blame him.
The name "Morani" means young warrior in Maa, which is the language of the Masaai people. I got to hang out with Morani for about 30 minutes, while he had a snack. Having felt a baby black rhino a few days before, I liked seeing how big he was (his back was the height of my shoulder and I am 5'6"). I liked seeing his little scrapes, his rough skin, his wrinkles, his eyes, his horns, well just about everything. He had a friendly look in his eye. But - he did swing his head around quickly, and it was bigger than my torso, so I had to be quick about moving and stay alert. The horn *was* dang sharp and I didn't want any accidental piercings. (The Kenyans seem to treat all such incidents as just bad luck and aren't that alarmed, whereas being a lone American miles from any medical care I tend to think hard about avoiding "bad luck").
I'll probably never get to be that close to a grown black rhino again and live to tell about it. Like most such arrangements, a small fee is required to visit him (as I recall, about $5 U.S.), but it's well worth it, and every tip you give a local guide goes a long way since the country has roughly 70% unemployment.

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