Joseph signaled for us to crouch lower. There was a patch of woods to our right, and he quickly led us in that direction so the trees would hide our approach. The wind was right, and the cow and calf, still wonderfully exposed in the clearing, stopped their retreat. The cow raised her head and sniffed. Her ears, one of which was missing a chunk, were pricked forward. Hearing nothing, she resumed grazing.
We kept slipping closer, stepping slowly to avoid breaking dry branches. Five minutes later we had reached the edge of the wood. The rhinos were still grazing, no more than 50 yards away. Joseph tugged on my arm and pointed to a six-foot-long and three-foot-deep depression at the edge of the field. It was teeming with huge beetles, and it smelled powerfully. "It's called a midden," Bruce whispered. "It's a dung pit. It's almost like a daily newspaper for the rhinoceros. Whenever one comes along, he uses it, so the next rhino knows who else is in the area."
One small acacia stood between us and the two black rhinos. Bruce asked us to climb into a nearby tree, a smooth-barked marula, which bears a figlike fruit from which South Africans make a liqueur called Amarula. Five of us scrambled up quietly. But photographer Bill Frakes wanted to sneak closer. So he, Bruce and Joseph, creeping low, moved into the field, toward that lone acacia, keeping the tree between themselves and the rhinos. When they reached it, they were no more than 40 yards from the cow and her calf.
When Bill started taking pictures, however, the mother rhino turned, her ears alert, and without further warning started her charge, keeping her head high in the air. Joseph cocked his gun—ker-chuck—while Bruce tried to give Bill a hand into the acacia. But the first branch Bill grabbed on to broke with a loud crack, and the rhino stopped dead in her tracks. She looked around, found the calf and then wheeled and started running in the other direction.
Joseph jumped into the open and put his hand to his mouth. He gave a high-pitched, mournful cry—"Cawwww...awww"—which, he later told us, was the distress call of a rhino calf. The mother slowed when she heard it, but when she saw her calf close to her flanks, she continued with purpose. The last we saw of them—and may God grant them speed in fleeing all poachers—they were loping into the bush, their tails straight up, their long, curved horns in the air.