Rhino Retreat

Stephen Quinn
December 10, 2010 share
Artists for Conservation

Dec 6th - After an early breakfast we headed out for a game drive in the park. The birds here are unbelievable!! Rosse's and Hartlaub's Touraco sailed across our path with bright red wing patches glowing in the morning sun. Overhead both Marshall Eagle and African Crested Eagle circled. These are big birds of prey! Marshall Eagle is big enough to take small antelope and the Crested Eagle will take monkeys. They are both magnificent birds. New mammals for me were Suni, a tiny little forest antelope (Marshall Eagle food) and Giant Forest Hog. The forest hog is really big. There is one in the Bongo diorama at AMNH back in New York and I had always wanted to see one in person. 

The forest in this national park is magnificent! When I first started work as an artist at AMNH back in 1974, I was assigned to apprentice with diorama background painter Bob Kane. Bob had traveled on the expeditions to collect the specimens and make the reference paintings for the dioramas in the Akeley Hall of African Mammals. He always spoke fondly about the time he spent in the Aberdares. Now I could second his opinion and understand why. I had brought along a sketch box that Bob had given me that he carried on his African expeditions for the museum. Now I could use it in the mountains he loved so well. I'm sure he would be very pleased. The forest around us was full of pink flowering Cape Chestnut trees and among the branches of the tallest trees was one of the most amazing primates, next to the Mountain Gorilla earlier on the expedition, the Black and White Colobus Monkey. I immediately thought of the wonderful treetop scene in the Akeley Hall at the museum with a background painted by my friend Fred Scherer. I wished he were with me as the scene transported me back to New York and validated the superb job that Fred had done in recreating the treetop world that is home to these remarkable creatures. These are spectacular animals in their appearance. Large monkeys with long flowing black and white hair. In the morning sun, when leaping from tree branch to tree branch they are a glorious sight and seem to have great dignity and style in their black and white formal wear.

During the afternoon Murray and Guy  brought to us to a remote and special place  in the park. The jeep trail led down a steep and muddy incline and ended in a wide-open forest glade with a tumbling stream through its center. Beside the stream was a bronze plaque that dedicates the glade and the surrounding park to the memory of Robin Glemton Combes, Murray's father, who founded the Rhino Ark fund and worked throughout his life on behalf of the Africa he loved. This glade is where the ashes of all the Combes family have been spread and, as Guy's father had recently passed away, his name would soon be added to the plaque. What a wonderful tribute to a family who has worked so tirelessly on behalf of conservation in Africa. Jeff Whiting and I felt very privileged to have been brought here by the Combes cousins, Murray and Guy. In a very real way the Combes family are carrying on the African wildlife conservation legacy started long ago by earlier explorers like Carl Akeley.

Later that night, after dinner, we sat with a glass of scotch and relaxed while watching the waterhole. We didn't wait long for visitors, and they were BIG ones - African Elephants! An entire herd appeared in absolute silence from out of the dim, dark forest. First the smaller ones and then an enormous bull. They were all the more impressive because we were only 50 feet away and at ground level. They loomed over us. They were so magnificent and moved with such grace in complete silence, except for an occasional deep rumbling from deep inside them that you could feel more than hear.

Off on stage right, a sizable herd of Cape Buffalo emerged from the night forest and edged closer trying to nudge the elephants away from the water. The big bull elephant would have none of it. As intimidating as the big buffalo were to us, they are no match for the elephants. A big bull African Elephant can weigh as much a six tons. A big bull buffalo from 3 to 4 tons. The big elephant drew up water in it's trunk and fired it, like a high pressure hose, at the buffalo and sent them scurrying. We were amused to watch the buffalo make several more attempts  with the same result. The big bull would toss water at them and drive them back. We watched as long as we could until sleep and the scotch drove us to bed.


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