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We’re racing along a bumpy dirt road in Somkhanda Game Reserve, South Africa’s only community-owned game reserve that’s home to both black and white rhino. We’re late; the sun has started its rapid descent towards the horizon and our overnight stop is still about forty minutes away, a rhino patrol station set deep in the acacia thickets that overlook Jozini dam.

The quiet Somkhanda bush, set high above its noisier neighbour, Jozini Dam. Photo by Teagan Cunniffe

The quiet Somkhanda bush, set high above its noisier neighbour, Jozini Dam.

I’m desperately holding on: one hand clutching a slippery rail, the other keeping precarious hold of my camera. As I glance across to Kati, our Online Editor extraordinaire, all thought of dodging tree branches or the rolling gas cylinder in the back of the bakkie flee my mind, replaced by gleeful disbelief. There she stands, one hand hooked around the rail and the other held up high, clutching her phone with a look of consternation on her face, searching vainly for signal so she can send off a queue of tweets.

Thankfully she had the grace to look guilty, but not before I had fired off a few shots as blackmail material. I can’t blame her really; her job requires being plugged in 24/7, even whilst on assignment where the world of social media could not seem further away. Which was precisely why our editor, Sonya Schoeman, had chosen her for this particular piece.

You see, in an online world of armchair activism against rhino poaching, it’s easy to get jaded and lose touch with what’s happening at grass-roots level. Our mission was to follow in rhino trackers’ freshly-laid footsteps and acquaint ourselves with their anti-poaching efforts, comparing their everyday working lives with our own. After all, as Wildland’s project manager David Gilroy says, “it’s warm bodies that will win this war.”

 

You can read all about our ‘out of the comfort zone‘ feature in the February 2015 issue of Getaway Magazine.

February 2015, Somkhanda

 

Moneni Gumbi, (Ranger at Somkhanda Game Reserve) pictured with Kati Auld (Getaway Online Editor). Photo by Teagan Cunniffe

Moneni Gumbi, (ranger at Somkhanda Game Reserve) pictured with Kati Auld (Getaway Online Editor).

 

The gruesome remains of two rhinos greeted us on the first day.  Photo by Teagan Cunniffe

The gruesome remains of two rhinos greeted us on the first day.

 

Moneni Gumbi and his uncle, Sabelo Gumbi. Photo by Teagan Cunniffe

After a hellish race to arrive before sundown and squeeze in a few portraits, we met up with Moneni Gumbi and his uncle, Sabelo Gumbi.

 

Base camp.  Photo by Teagan Cunniffe

Base camp. This was Moneni’s favourite camp. It was isolated and alone, away from humanity.

 

Early morning rhino tracking. Photo by Teagan Cunniffe

Early morning rhino tracking.

 

Last light of the evening illuminating a relaxing scene. Photo by Teagan Cunniffe

Last light of the evening illuminating a relaxing scene, Sabelo leaning back against a tree and puffing out a well-deserved smoke while Moneni starts to gather food items for dinner.

 

Typical attire consists of a radio and rifle, with each ranger taking turns carrying them. Photo by Teagan Cunniffe

Typical attire consists of a radio and rifle, with each ranger taking turns carrying them.

 

Moneni taking a break at the rest-stop. Photo by Teagan Cunniffe

Moneni taking a break at the rest-stop on the early morning patrol route.

 

Sinister signs dot the fences. Photo by Teagan Cunniffe

Sinister signs dot the fences, but do little to deter hardened poachers.

 

View over Somkanda Game Reserve. Photo by Teagan Cunniffe

The serene view over Somkhanda Game Reserve hides the turmoil beneath.

 
Read the story about what really goes into protecting our rhinos in the February 2015 issue of Getaway.

Getaway February Cover 2015