Rhodes Matopos National Park, Zimbabwe

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We spent a full day in Rhodes Matopos National Park where we did a rhino walk and visited the rock art of the Sans people. We saw ELEVEN white rhinos during our game walk! The white rhino is named due to a complete misconception. The Dutch word for “wide” sounds like “white” in English, so the British called them white rhinos. The original name described the wide mouth used for eating grass versus the black rhinos narrower and hook shaped mouth. There is no actual color difference. Unfortunately, many Asian cultures believe the rhino horn has aphrodisiac qualities for men making them larger and last longer (gross!). Because of this, the powder from the horns are highly sought after and very expensive, up to $100,000 per kilogram. Hence why poaching is so prolific. Currently Vietnam is the main consumer of rhino horns, but it was previously China.

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A rhino horn is made of compressed keratin, just like fingernails, and grows throughout the rhinos’ life at a rate of 7-10 cm per year. It is not painful to cut the horn as long as you leave a small stump. Many national parks have shaved the horns off all of their rhinos to prevent poaching, but the small stump can weigh up to 2 kilograms ($200,000) so poachers will still kill the rhino. In Kruger National Park, one rhino is poached every 9 hours. The number of poached rhinos nearly doubles every year and it is suspected that there will be no wild rhinos left in Africa in 8-9 years. Rhino gestation period is 16 months with another 16 month weaning period, so the population growth is slow, worsening the poaching effects on the population. Because of Zimbabwe’s strict antipoaching laws (a person can be killed if even suspected of poaching), there have been no poaching deaths in this park in three years. This park has 50 guards at all times tracking and protecting the rhinos.

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It is no surprise that poaching is so common, especially in countries like Zimbabwe where the unemployment rate is >90%. Poaching feeds families unfortunately. Many in the park communities are promoting the legalization of rhino horn sales to drop prices and allow the money made to be redirected to the parks and local communities. Currently, the national parks have enough rhino horns in stock from horn cutting to supply the market for 18-20 years.

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Rhinos typically only charge if they feel in danger and can gain a speed of 50-60 kilometers in 3 seconds. They have very poor vision so rely on their sense of hearing and smell to detect predators. Black rhinos tend to be more aggressive than white rhinos, hence why rhino walks are only available to see white rhinos. Rhinos have a life span of 45 years.

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The granite rocks in the park are around 3 billion years old, making them some of the oldest rock formations in the world. They were formed by bubbling lava that solidified and were later sculpted by water erosion.

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The leopard tortoise is one of the “Little Five,” named similar to the “Big Five”: the leopard tortoise, the ant lion, the elephant shrew, the rhino beetle, and the buffalo weaver.

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Although we didn’t spot one, Rhodes Matopos National Park has the highest density of leopards in Africa.

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The other highlight of the park was the San paintings in Nsvatuke Cave. The rock paintings were thought to be portals into the spiritual world and the spirit animals were painted to protect those sleeping in the caves. There are 50,000 documented rock paintings in the park. The paint was made of two types of rock, ash, urine, and animal bile. The animal bile stained the rock given its high acidity level. The most recently dated painting is around 350 years old, with the oldest dating back 60,000 years. The San people are considered the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa and are a type of African pygmie due to their short stature. They are hunter gatherers and only stayed in one location for 10-14 days before moving on, as to not effect the environment detrimentally. There are only about 5,000 true bushmen left. They speak a click language.

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The Pomongwe Cave paintings were unfortunately destroyed due to the National Museum using linseed oil in an effort to preserve the paintings.

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For sunset, we climbed to the “View of the World” where Cecil Rhodes is buried.

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In Zimbabwe, we camped for one night in Harare, two nights in Bulawayo, and three nights in Victoria Falls. While at camp, we occupied ourselves with drinks, flapping, and campfires.

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