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The Black Rhinos of Namibia: Searching for Survivors in the African Desert

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Overview


“An extraordinary exploration and meditation . . . [Bass] transports us along on this wonder-filled tour, full of hardness and hope, into an otherworldly place that mirrors our own.” —National Geographic Traveler

Black rhinos are not actually black. They are, however, giant animals with tiny eyes, feet the diameter of laundry baskets, and horns that are prized for both their aesthetic and medicinal qualities. Until recently, these creatures were perched on the edge of ...

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The Black Rhinos of Namibia: Searching for Survivors in the African Desert

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Overview


“An extraordinary exploration and meditation . . . [Bass] transports us along on this wonder-filled tour, full of hardness and hope, into an otherworldly place that mirrors our own.” —National Geographic Traveler

Black rhinos are not actually black. They are, however, giant animals with tiny eyes, feet the diameter of laundry baskets, and horns that are prized for both their aesthetic and medicinal qualities. Until recently, these creatures were perched on the edge of extinction, their numbers dwindling as they succumbed to poachers and the ravages of civil war. Now their numbers are rising, thanks to a groundbreaking new conservation method from the Save the Rhino Trust: make sure that rhinos are worth more alive than dead.

Rick Bass, who has long worn the uneasy mantle of both activist and hunter, traveled to Namibia to find black rhinos. The tale of his journey provides a deeper understanding of these amazing animals and of just what needs to be done to protect them.

“Bass provides a singularly thoughtful portrait of a unique animal, and a meditation on mankind’s relationship to both it and the natural world as a whole.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Novelist and memoirist Bass (Why I Came West) records his travels to Namibia to “witness... a ponderous beast out upon such a naked and seemingly unsupporting landscape.” At Damaraland, in the Namib Desert, Bass encounters activist Mike Hearn of the Save the Rhino Trust. Throughout the book, Bass renders an affectionate portrait of Hearn and his life’s work defending rhinos. No actual rhino appears until more than halfway through, when searches culminate in two perilous and riveting encounters. Later, Bass travels from Damaraland to the tamer and popular Etosha National Park. While the rhino’s plight, and efforts to ensure its recovery, are given considerable attention, Bass’s time in the desert, among its animals and vastness, focuses him on “the big questions”: the origin of life, the rhino’s miraculous adaptation to the desert’s austerity, and what humanity can learn from the magnificent animal. Time in the desert also yields touching meditations on time itself—its nature, and our experience of it. To describe the desert, another protagonist, Bass must examine the nature of perception: “The barren land unscrolls before us as if being created by the very act of our seeing.” On occasion, Bass struggles to infuse the ruminations with poetry; his prose, packed with similes and comparisons, can be cumbersome. Agent: Robert Datilla, the Phoenix Literary Agency. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
"A well-known nature writer travels to the Namib Desert, ‘one of the oldest unchanged landscapes on earth’ . . . an exciting adventure."
Kirkus
Library Journal
Actually grey-brown with white overtones, the Black Rhinoceros is divided into four subspecies, three critically endangered and one declared extinct in November 2011. Bass, a nature writer of exceptional force and sensitivity, visits the subspecies that lives primarily in Africa's dry southwest.
Kirkus Reviews
A well-known nature writer travels to the Namib Desert, "one of the oldest unchanged landscapes on earth." In search of a change of pace, Bass (Why I Came West, 2009, etc.) accepted an invitation to travel with his friend, Dennis, who heads a nonprofit studying South African rhinos that have been saved from extinction but are still threatened. They visited a Namibian field station run by the Save the Rhino Trust, where a collaborative project is underway. A high point of the trip was their five-day trek through the desert during which they had three encounters with potentially dangerous rhinos, including a mother and her calf. Armed only with cameras, Bass experienced the extreme desert conditions in which this once populous species now lives in "staggering" temperatures, with barely enough drinking water to survive. The author describes his journey as "not like anything I have ever done, hurrying to stride alongside this big cruising creature, an animal that could so easily dispatch, finish, erase any or all of us." In addition to discussing his own experiences, the author provides interesting background on the Cold War era, when pro-communist Angolan armies battled South African forces, and both sides financed their efforts by selling the horns of the rhinos they massacred. An exciting adventure, but may disappoint animal-lovers interested in learning more about rhinos.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780544002333
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 8/20/2013
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 694,198
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

RICK BASS’s fiction has received O. Henry Awards, numerous Pushcart Prizes, awards from the Texas Institute of Letters, fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, among others. Most recently, his memoir Why I Came West was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award.

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Read an Excerpt

Prologue

I had been apprehensive about traveling to Africa, not yet understanding, as I do now, that the world is Africa: that Africa has been at the back of the world’s curve for so long that it is now nearing the front again; that the rest of the world, which came from Africa, is becoming Africa again, as if the secret yearnings of an older, more original world are beginning to stir once more, desiring and now seeking reunification by whatever means possible: perhaps subtly, or perhaps immense and grandiose.
   There is less and less a line, invisible or otherwise, between Africa and the world. And rather than arousing alarm—or is this my imagination?—it seems possible to perceive that as Africa’s long woes and experiences become increasingly familiar to the larger world—radiating, as the origin and then expansion of certain species, including our own, is said to have radiated from Africa—into the larger or farther and newer world—we are turning to Africa not with quite so much colonial patronizing, but with greater respect, partnership.
   There are those elsewhere in the world recognizing now that although Africa cannot by certain measurements be said to have prospered, it has, after all, survived—while many in the United States, for instance, exponentially less-tested, are already buckling and fragmenting, falling apart at the seams. I am not saying our country yet has a whiff or taste of Africa’s troubles—yet I am suggesting, however, that perhaps our own little sag is creating a space, within that sag, for something other than arrogance, and maybe even something other than inattention.
   One country in Africa, Namibia, is fixing one problem—and I will not label it a small, medium, or large problem—with creativity and resolve. That’s one problem solved, with a near-eternity of problems still remaining. But it’s a start.
   We in the United States, on the other hand, are moving backwards: removing nothing from our checklist of either social or environmental woes—still, in fact, proceeding, with the absurd premise that there is a wall between the two—and, in fact, adding to our lengthy checklist of unsolved problems and crises. Often we create new ones as we go, trudging into the new century, with considerable unease, as if not only poorly-sighted, but possessing none of the other sensors at all, compassion included. Moving forward into the century, but backward into time and history, while some countries in Africa (and elsewhere) inch forward.
   What is the individual’s duty, in a time of war—ecological, and otherwise?
   What is the individual’s duty, in a time of world war?
   Always, the two most time-tested answers seem to arise: to bear witness, and to love the world more fully and in-the-moment, as it becomes increasingly suspect or even obvious that future such moments will be compromised, or perhaps nonexistent.
   And yet: one would be a fool to come away silently from the Namib Desert, having seen what I’ve seen—people in a nearly-waterless land continuing to dream and try new solutions, land- and community-based, and move forward with pride and vigor and perhaps rarest and most valuable of all these days, the vitality of hope.
   The rhino—guardian of this hard edge of the world, pushed here to the precipice—is giving them hope.

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Table of Contents

Prologue vii
Part I: Pastoral 1
Part II: Wild 77
Part III: Dust 197
Epilogue 240
Acknowledgments 269

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