A specially trained Irish guard dog is being sent to South Africa to help protect rhinos from poachers (Irish Times 22/02/20)…..
God, thought Duke, rhinos are hard to herd.
All morning he’d been circling the group, trying to get them to follow him. He had run at them, he had weaved in and out between their legs, he had raced away suddenly as if he’d just spotted something really interesting that they really should come and see. All to no avail.
He had barked insults at them, also to no avail, though this came as no surprise to him since rhinos are the living epitome of thick-skinned.
The collective noun for rhinos is a “stubbornness”, and Duke could fully understand why.
Herding sheep, back in Ireland, had been simple, because sheep are simple. Duke would just go up to one that was trailing behind the others, nudge it gently with his nose, and the sheep would, sheepishly, join the rest of the flock.
The first time he’d tried that with a rhino it had nudged back, propelling him sideways into a confetti bush.
But Duke had persevered, because he had moved on to being a guard dog, and these creatures were under his protection.
Being a guard dog back home had been easier, too, the one requisite skill being the ability to growl. Mostly he had done it without even having to get out of his basket.
But here was different. Here he was not dealing with hapless and easily scared-off burglars. Here he was up against real evil, against ruthless people prepared to kill in pursuit of their goal.
Which was rhino horn. These thugs were willing to sacrifice an entire animal just for one small piece of it, which made as much sense as killing a frog and then eating only its legs.
And for what? Because it’s an aphrodisiac? It’s made of exactly the same stuff as toenails, fumed Duke, see how sexy you find that.
The reason he fumed was that he had come to love these charges of his, loved their placid nature, their amazing, though rare, high-pitched squeal, their simple joy when they soaked in mud.
So he fussed endlessly over them, trying to keep them where he could watch them, fiercely determined to keep them safe.
Now the rhinos suddenly gathered in a line, like the world’s ugliest identity parade. Duke wanted to believe that they were finally obeying him, but knew that it was simply their time to go to the water hole.
The rhinos went there at the same time every day. Duke knew that this was a bad idea, like a shop owner lodging his takings every Friday at noon, but he had been unable to persuade them to vary this routine. So now he watched, not them but in all directions, as they contentedly lined up at the water’s edge.
Suddenly he saw movement in the bushes, less than fifty yards away.
Please let it be a wildebeest, he thought. Please let it be an impala. Please let it be a leopard. No, hang on, forget the last one. Please let –
He saw a glint of sunshine reflecting off a rifle barrel.
“Kak,” thought Duke in Afrikaans.
He ran at the rhinos, barking furiously, imploring them to move, to run, to hide in the bushes. They ignored him, continuing to lap thirstily at the water.
Honestly, thought Duke, it’s like trying to give instructions to a two-ton cat.
He looked up as the poacher emerged from the bush. He saw the cruel smile as the man lifted his rifle.
Duke put down his head, rhino-like, and charged.
The poacher had a gun. He could have shot Duke with it. He could have clubbed him with it. But a profession such as his is not built upon courage, so he turned and ran, back towards a distant village.
Duke ran after him, snarling, growling, striking terror into the man’s heart. Though the safety of the village was getting ever closer, Duke was gaining, and he readied himself to leap, to clamp his jaws into the poacher’s thigh. He was so close, just another few –
The man vanished.
Duke skidded to a halt, staring wildly around him in confusion. Then, just ahead, he heard a low sound, as if the earth itself was moaning. He inched forward, then stopped.
The poacher had fallen down a well.
He looked up as Duke peered over the edge. He raised one hand, as if beseeching help.
I think you’re mixing me up with someone else, thought Duke.
He turned and padded slowly away.