The Black Rhinos of Namibia: Searching for Survivors in the African Desertby Rick Bass
Black rhinos are not actually black. They are, however, giant animals with tiny eyes, feet the diameter of laundry/i>
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“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
"A well-known nature writer travels to the Namib Desert, ‘one of the oldest unchanged landscapes on earth’ . . . an exciting adventure."
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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.
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, and his memoir, Why I Came West, was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award.
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