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Meeting Old Jamani

Upon approaching the Rhino reserve somewhere in equatorial Africa, I didn’t expect that 3000 pounds of unfettered rhino would soon be walking straight toward me, but that’s exactly what happened. After I complacently jumped out of the land rover, the first thing I saw was that huge square face with its enormous protruding horns and beady little eyes staring at me.  Instantly, I became in touch with my Neanderthal roots and found myself running back to the truck slamming the door shut behind me.

During that small panic laden moment in time, the image of that massive animal signaled nothing but approaching danger. Yet, I failed to notice the two armed game wardens pacing leisurely about, or my husband and fellow travelers calmly approaching the black rhinoceros Old Jamani (Swahili for friend) They were even starting to pet him.

Man’s Best Friend?

“These people are nuts!” I thought…. One false move and they will be Rhino mush! Yet, from the vantage point of the truck, things began to look slightly different. I began to examine OJ more carefully, trying not to notice that my husband was becoming Dr. Doolittle. He walked with Jamani, he talked to Jamani and then started stroking the animal’s leathery skin as if it were a big house cat!

Feeling like a complete fool locked up in the jeep, while everyone else acted like it was Sunday afternoon at the State Fair, I forced myself to face my fear, even if just to save myself from embarrassment. I again approached the others, vowing that I was not going near that animal, nor was I going to pet him, because unlike these other deluded souls, I valued my life!

I left  the safe haven and from what I perceived to be a safe distance, stood and listened as one of the park rangers told us Old Jamani’s story. It seemed that poachers brutally killed his mother for her horns and left Baby J to survive alone in the bush. The game wardens raised him as their own until he was about 3 years old at which time they attempted to release him back to the wild.

Unfortunately, Jamani who had been treated like a domesticated animal couldn’t survive in his natural habitat after being with humans for so long. I looked at his tough skin which bore the scars of his fellow rhino’s attacks and felt sad because he was now sentenced to live an artificial life of protection within the compound; no longer able to have rhino adventures, except perhaps with humans. As you can see, once I understood that among other things, my new rhino pal couldn’t have been staring at me because of his poor eyesight, I gingerly risked petting that wounded hide.

My initial reaction to OJ forced me to give in to fear too quickly and avoid risking a new experience. Like Jamani, however, the comfort with the status quo could have led to security without the joy of new possibility or adventure. Unlike my old friend, however, I took a chance and as you can see in our photo, came to a new level of trust of self and others.


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