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During my travels through Assam, India, I had several opportunities to observe rhinoceros. The single horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) also known variously as the Nepali Rhinoceros, Indian Rhinoceros, Great One-horned Rhinoceros or Asian One-horned Rhinoceros, is found in greater numbers in the Kaziranga National Park in Assam than anywhere else.
Historically, the species range extended right across northern India from the border with Burma into Pakistan. During the 19th century they were hunted almost to extinction, by the early 20th century there were only 12 individual rhinos left in Kaziranga and probably less than 100 throughout all of India before they were granted full legal protection from hunting. The species is still regarded as endangered with poaching still a problem but happily, with protection, numbers have recovered to about 2500 animals with at least 1600 in Kaziranga alone. Suggested further reading: Wikipedia WWF India
Canon 5D Mark 2 with 70-300mm zoom at 300mm F5.6, shutter speed 1/640second at ISO 400.
Close encounter of the loud kind!
This particular rhino was photographed from the back of an elephant in Kaziranga NP. Riding elephants through the park is one of “the” things to do whilst there, however, torrential rain in the days leading up to my arrival meant I was a little lucky to get to do it at all. On the morning that I got the go ahead, I duly climbed up the small mounting platform and climbed aboard the elephant sitting directly behind the mahout. The third person to get onboard, and sitting behind me was a national parks ranger. I was appropriately armed with my camera which I’d loaded with a 70-300mm zoom lens and a fresh memory card. The ranger was appropriately armed with a double barrelled shotgun loaded with cartridges and I suspect he was carrying some spare ammo as well, “just in case”.
We set out, along with another 3 or 4 elephants carrying mostly Indian tourists, and began to enjoy the fresh morning air and the twittering of the birds in the trees as we proceeded through some light forest. Forest gradually gave way to marshland and our elephants pushed through shallow swamp with the appropriately named elephant grass all around us. In places the grass was so tall that it was impossible to see over it even whilst seated atop the elephants. We cleared the swamp and the tallest of the grass and then sighted several of the rhinos. Mostly they were grazing, largely unconcerned by our presence, unless we approached a bit too close in which case they would simply move away a few metres and we would go around them.
The rhinos seem to be generally placid unless there is a mother with a calf, in which case extra caution needed to be used as the mother can be more temperimental. We stopped momentarily to view a female rhino with an adolescent at its side. We were probably about 25 to 30 metres from them and they were walking towards us. Camera at the ready and finger on the shutter button, I’m just about to take a photograph, light’s pretty good, composition’s pretty good, shutter speed’s set when…KABOOM!!! the ranger had decided that the rhino was now too close for comfort and without any warning fired his shot gun. My ears were ringing and I nearly jumped off the elephant in fright. The rhinos just stopped and looked at us but didn’t retreat at all. Once again, without any warning, KABOOM!!! the second barrel gets fired. The rhinos nonchalantly turned and walked away.
I looked around and saw the other tourists on their elephants 20 or 30 metres away from us, they had their fingers stuck in their ears and looked startled. How did they think I felt, I had no idea either blast was going to occur and was sitting right next to the National Parks Service answer to Wyatt Earp.
“So”, I hear you say, “where are the pictures of that?” Well I don’t have a picture of that particular episode. Image stabilization is marvellous and can counter the effects of camera shake up to a certain point, but this was too much. Not only were my hands shaking, but I was desperately trying to control other bodily functions as well!
The photo shown here is of a different rhino and was taken a few minutes later. Is it my imagination, or is his facial expression a knowing smirk? KD.
PS: The shots fired were blanks I believe, bloody loud but no animals were harmed.