I had a memorable encounter with a rhino when I was five or six years old. My parents had been transferred from Katangulu to Nassa, where they continued to minister among the Sukuma people. I had become more fluent in Kisukuma than English because I played daily with the African children.
One day they asked my dear dad to shoot a marauding rhinoceros that was destroying peoples’ gardens, stomping all over their food supply of nearly-ready crops. A truckload of men, one or two with guns, had come to drive this rhino away from the area, hoping to persuade it to head back onto the Serengeti plains. They weren’t very good at aiming their rifles. They hurriedly drove off, leaving a very angry beast behind. Now the rhino was a threat to peoples’ lives. That’s when they summoned my dad.
I wasn’t present when the actual shot took the rhino down, but it fell right in its tracks, looking like it would rise again at any moment to take up his charge!
My dad enjoyed photography and wanted a picture of this epic event. Our neighbors were Ed and Esther Arensen and their two boys. My dad thought it would be creative to take a photo of us kids on the back of the dead rhino. However, being so young, I was not convinced the huge creature was really dead. I was SO fearful that once I sat on the back of this massive monster it would rise up on its feet and run as fast as it could with me straddled across his back! I could imagine bumping and thumping through thorny thistles before being tossed into the bush, bleeding and absolutely scared to death!
I don’t think my dear dad realized how terrified I was as he placed me on the rhino’s back for the historic photo! This incident made a lasting impact on my young heart and mind. At the time I didn’t know the characteristics of this marvelous animal, which is very skittish and temperamental, having a keen sense of smell but limited eyesight. Often when a rhino is charging towards an ‘obnoxious object’ it stops short before making a ‘kill.’ It pauses and then turns abruptly and leaves the scene.
This was NOT a fond memory from my childhood, but it has been imprinted in my head and heart and I always give the rhino – the regal renegade – his rightful place to carry out his reign in peace! I will always remember the rhino.