Morani is the Swahili word for “Little Warrior”.
“No! I did not kill the rhino!” I cannot tell you how many times I have said that since 2006.
My friend Pat and I had a free day in Nairobi and asked Fred, our driver for our visit to take us to see some animals. There are not many zoos in Kenya but there are many game preserves and conservancies that are dedicated to keeping animals in the open and protecting them from poachers.
Fred took us to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. In 2006 it was known as “Sweetwaters Game Preserve.” Located on the equator west of Nanyuki, the conservancy leads up to the foothills of majestic Mt. Kenya.
After driving around for a while in the sweltering heat, no air conditioning in Kenyan cars, we saw a few gazelles and such, we came across a sign that said “Rhino” with an arrow pointing left. We were also hoping to find some bottled water. My mouth, after driving for hours, in 90 degree heat with the windows down felt like I been licking the rear end of an elephant!
Driving for about a half mile, we came upon two huts. One was selling souvenirs and of course, no water. The other hut was the ranger office. Two tall, thin black as the night, rangers dressed in dusty khaki uniforms came out of the hut. One was carrying a rifle on his back. The unarmed ranger, asked “Do you want to see the rhino?” Hmmm. This was certainly a smart ass moment. but I let it go. I learned from a previous trip that being a smart ass to a guy with a gun is not a good idea. After giving him a hearty “Yes Sir,” we followed him down a bush lined, dirt path kicking up dirt as we went. It wasn’t long until we were all covered in dirt.
I was expecting find ourselves on a raised platform looking through binoculars, with the ranger pointing to some distant object saying “There’s the Rhino.”
That is not what happened.
We walked for about 10 minutes and stopped when we came to a clearing. Thirty yards away, there was a beautiful black rhino. My brain started screaming at me. WTF!!! Find a tree! Be the first one up the tree. We had just invaded the space of a Black Rhino.
The unarmed ranger began talking baby talk to the rhino like you would do to your dog. The ranger then walked over and started petting the rhino behind its right ear. What the hell is this? I thought.
Morani, the black rhino standing proudly before us was orphaned at 6 months old in 1981. His mother was poached for her horns. Morani has been raised by humans since then and I do think, Morani thought he was a dog. Morani was referred to as tame. Let’s face it, no wild animal is ever tame. I could see Morani getting up on the wrong side of the bushes one morning and ramming that beautiful horn into the first human he saw. Fortunately that didn’t happen to us, but I had a tree picked out just in case.
The unarmed Ranger took my photos holding the great horn of Morani. As I held his horn, the great beast slowly moved his head left and right. I could feel his raw natural power. After a few minutes Morani had had enough and gently moved his head to the left letting me know it was time to let go of his horn.
Morani backed up and then walked around a bit and then laid on his stomach in the shade. The unarmed ranger said, “Sit on his shoulder and I will take your photo.” I said to him, “You go first, and if you live, I will do it.” The Ranger showed me how to lean on Morani. I moved slowly toward Morani from the front as I did not want to startle him. I then gently leaned on the shoulder of the smelly, dried leather skinned rhino and slowly scratched him behind his ear. I spoke to him in a quiet soothing voice “Don’t kill Morani. Don’t kill me Morani.” The Ranger took our photo. It is that photo that has had me repeating to everyone who has seen it “No! I did not kill the rhino!”
Sadly, on August 13, 2008, Morani died of old age at the Conservancy
Morani spend his last 19 years at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. As a true ambassador for the plight of the Black Rhino.
The Black Rhino are specific to Africa. At the turn of the 20th century there were several hundred thousand in existence, by midcentury about 70,000 and today around 4000. Poaching the Black Rhino for its horn, which is ground up into a powder, and touted as an aphrodisiac, is the number one killer among Black Rhinos. They remain on the world’s endangered species list.
For further information see the links below. The video is cool!
Video of Morani and additional information.