The harmony of the bush was unceremoniously shattered in a heartbeat. The thick vegetation to our right was suddenly flattened as two angry rhinos erupted from its depths and emerged on to the open plain in front of us. The previously tranquil air was suddenly filled with the clashing of horns and plumes of dust were sent sailing into the skies as these two great warriors engaged in battle. Neither participant looked old enough to posses their own territory so the nature of the skirmish is unknown; although no doubt linked to elevated testosterone levels as they prepare to challenge existing kings for their thrones.
The two great beasts were so focused on their conflict that they continued in close proximity to our Land Rover as guests looked on in awe at the spectacle unfolding before us. The habituation levels of the animals at Sabi Sabi afford us wonderful opportunities on a daily basis to witness natural behaviour at close quarters, and this case was a perfect example. To be close enough to hear the clash of horns, to be shrouded in the resulting dust cloud and to hear the puffs of exertion, makes for a truly enveloping experience.
We watched as the two armour plated warriors were locked nose to nose for in excess of 45 minutes. As time went by, so the intensity of the battle amplified and before long, the scale of the mammoth encounter became visible. The contrast between the dark grey of the skin and the vivid oxygen rich blood seeping from the open wounds merely highlighted the severity of the exchange. The hide of a rhino is incredibly tough and the presence of blood emphasized the power being delivered in the blows.
The exchange seemed fairly equal as each rhino took turns pushing the other back swiping with their horns, trying to penetrate the defense of the other. Every now and again, an opening would be worked whereby the horn could be pressed into the neck of the other in an attempt to end the battle once and for all, but each time the end was in sight, the advantage would be neutralized. We continued to view the spectacle without wanting to interfere. I felt like we were in a time warp, back to medieval times watching two valiant knights jousting each other in a true test of bravery. The tiered seating of the modified Land Rovers merely accentuated the vision as we, the audience, looked on, intrigued by the brutal confrontation.
Moments later, a third young male rhino entered the battlefield, no doubt attracted by the noise and perhaps the pheromones being released during the exchange. After inspecting the scene, he chose to remain on the sidelines, another spectator to the battle. Comically, he seemed to tire of the show not long after and instead preferred to return to his busy day of grazing in the midst of the warzone. If anything, he seemed to show distain at having to readjust his positioning to avoid the dueling leviathans!
Finally, after nearly an hour of combat, the two great warriors seemed to reach an unspoken truce. The chaos that had ensued previously vanished and order was restored. Tranquility returned to the bush once again and as the dust settled, the two rhinos calmed and turned their attention to eating, perhaps in an attempt to replenish some of the energy that had been expended during the exchange. We left the scene of the fracas wondering how long the armistice would last, but with a renewed respect for the harshness of life in the wild. For the majority of us, we live out our lives avoiding confrontation but out here, success is dictated by brute strength and a desire to win and only the strongest will survive.
The bush is a magical place, filled with antitheses; and as if to right the scales of the brutality that we had just witnessed, we were presented with an image of tranquility and beauty as the sun set on another emotionally fueled day in Africa. As the sun began its descent towards the horizon, a pair of elegant giraffe drifted ethereally across the now silent warzone. The calmness exuded by these graceful creatures was in perfect contrast to the violence that had preceded it and brought with it a perfect balance to the events of another emotionally fuelled evening.