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The Black Rhinos of Namibia: Searching for Survivors in the African Desert Hardcover – August 7, 2012
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From the Inside Flap
Rick Bass first made a name for himself as a writer and seeker of rare, iconic animals, including the grizzlies and wolves of the American West. Now hes off on a new, far-flung adventure in the Namib of southwest Africa on the trail of another fascinating, vulnerable species. The black rhino is a three-thousand-pound, squinty-eyed giant that sports three-foot-long dagger horns, lives off poisonous plants, and goes for days without water.
Human intervention and cutting-edge conservation saved the rhinosfor nowfrom the brink of extinction brought on by poaching and war. Against the backdrop of one of the most ancient and harshest terrains on earth, Bass, with his characteristic insight and grace, probes the complex relationship between humans and nature and meditates on our role as both destroyer and savior.
In the tradition of Peter Matthiessens The Tree Where Man Was Born, Bass captures a haunting slice of Africa, especially of the black rhinos that glow ghostly white in the gleaming sun.
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Mr. Bass shifting his writing between his concern for his grizzlies in the USA and that of the black rhino in Namibia really drives home the need for our concerns for the environment and conservation.
As a planner and leader of African wildlife safaris, I am concerned for the impression left on the reader who may aspire to see wildlife in Namibia or other African countries. The experience related by the author throughout much of the book requires considerable expense (or fortunate invitation) while offering rather long odds of realizing one's objective. In his Epilogue the author writes disparagingly of Etosha National Park where I've seen a black rhino with a young calf near a road when neither ran from the close encounter. Lodges in the heart of the park provide accommodation at reasonable cost, although I prefer Halali and Okaukuejo to Namutoni, the fort where the author and Dennis stayed. Park visitors are virtually assured of seeing far more wildlife by its roads and waterholes than by wandering the spaces of Damaraland. By all means experience the freedom of Namibia's vast open spaces, but to experience its black rhinos, do not eschew the 8,600 square mile "confines" of Etosha.
Bass is as much a philosopher and poet as he is a nature writer, and there are passages in this book that are beautifully written. No surprise there. But the narrative kind of drifts around and never really builds any momentum.
Bass goes to Namibia--an awesome, but unforgiving, environment--to seek out black rhinos and the people dedicated to trying to preserve them. Except for the fact that their horns aren't really horns, I knew nothing about rhinos when I opened this book, and I don't know much more now. OK: they're near-sighted, and they easily consume plants that are poisonous to humans. Every fifty pages you come upon those kinds of facts.
And just as chimps have Jane Goodall, rhinos have their champions who understand the importance of developing the species profile into that of a "glamour animal," so that people (with money) realize the value of these magnificent animals before they vanish completely.
I applaud Mr. Bass for helping that cause.
Although Bass does embed some of his personal politics into this narrative. Like, you know all those greedy colonialists who invaded Africa and enslaved/killed millions of people to loot natural resources, then plunged the continent into decades of violent civil war, illiteracy and grinding poverty, and then set the stage for entire villages to be wiped out by AIDS? Bush's fault.
Aside from that, Bass is duly impressed by the world that brought forth the rhino.
If you LOVE either Rick Bass or rhinos, this is the book for you. But it won't draw you into "rhinoworld" the way John Vaillant's "The Tiger" brought those big cats to life. I don't know if there's a title like that out there, but there should be, because rhinos are truly amazing.
This book did make me want to go to Namibia....for about a second. Then I remembered that I am not at all good with travel out in "the bush," as I prefer mid-range hotels near bowling alleys. And THEN I remembered that I live in Chicago, which has black rhinos at both the Lincoln Park AND Brookfield Zoos....so problem solved!!