In a heartbeat, the harmony of the Sabi Sabi bush was unceremoniously shattered. To our right, the thick vegetation was flattened as two angry rhinos erupted from its depths and emerged onto the open plain in front of us.
The air was suddenly filled with the clashing of horns and plumes of dust as the two great warriors engaged in battle. Neither participant looked old enough to possess its own territory, so the nature of the skirmish was unknown, although the rhinos’ testosterone levels were definitely elevated as the pair prepared to challenge the existing kings for their thrones.
The rhinos were so focused that they continued their conflict in close proximity to our Land Rover, with its passengers looking on in awe. The habituation levels of the animals at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve (in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve and forming part of the Greater Kruger National Park) afford us wonderful opportunities on a daily basis to witness natural behaviour at unnaturally 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 make for a truly enveloping experience.
The rhinos were locked nose to nose for 45-plus minutes. As time went by, so the intensity of the battle increased. Before long, blood seeped from open wounds in their dark grey skin. The hide of a rhino is incredibly tough and the presence of blood emphasised the power being delivered in the blows.
The opponents seemed fairly equally matched as each rhino took turns pushing the other back, swiping with its horns, trying to penetrate its defence. Now and again the horn of one would be pressed into the neck of the other in an attempt to end the battle once and for all, but each time the advantage was lost I felt like we were in a time warp, taken back to medieval times and watching two valiant knights jousting each other in a true test of bravery. The tiered seating of the modified Land Rovers 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. Comically, he seemed to tire of the show after a short while and returned to his grazing – in the midst of the war zone. He seemed to begrudge having to readjust his positioning to avoid the duelling leviathans!
Finally, after nearly an hour of combat, the two warrior rhinos reached a truce. Chaos disappeared, order was restored and tranquillity returned to the bush. As the dust settled, the two beasts turned their attention to eating. 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. The majority of us avoid confrontation; out here, success is dictated by brute strength and a desire to win. Only the strongest will survive.
The bush is a magical place, filled with contrasts. As if to balance the scales of the brutality that we had witnessed, we were presented with an image of tranquil beauty as the sun set on another emotion-filled day in Africa, highlighting a pair of elegant giraffes drifted ethereally across the now-silent war zone.