Garamba National Park: The Home of the White Rhinoceros

It sometimes happens that the popular name of a faunal species does not seem to have a logical explanation, but when the name refers to something as obvious as color and it turns out that the chromatic aspect of the species has nothing to do with the one applied to it, we reach an absurd situation. It has been said that the white rhinoceros received its name when the Europeans saw the first specimens covered in whitish slime and it has also been said that its name is actually a deformation of the terms used by the Dutch Boers: "weit" which means long or "wijt" which means wide and which in both cases are reminiscent of the English word "white". In any case, the white rhinoceros is the great faunal jewel of the Caramba National Park, created in 1938, no less, precisely to ensure its protection. 

The savannah, a sea of grass gaining ground over the jungle. 

The national park is a large peneplain barely interrupted from time to time by small granitic hills. Its location, close to the equator, would lead one to believe that the dominant ecosystem is the jungle or tropical forest; however, this is not the case. Because of the climate, the savannah, first wooded and then herbaceous, has progressively gained ground over the jungle, so that only where rivers such as the Dungu, the Aka, or the Garamba cross the territory, we can find the characteristic gallery forest, or even a marshy terrain settled in the areas of river overflow. 

To better understand this fact, we must take into account that in the national park the rains are concentrated in the months of March to December, while during the rest of the year the climate becomes dry and the warm wind blows almost constantly from the northeast. Consequently, as we move away from the equator, the remnants of rainforest and gallery forests surrounding the river courses give way to a savannah that is initially very green and wooded but progressively turns into a dry, shrubby savannah. Naturally, such a clear succession has a decisive influence on the distribution of the various species that populate Garamba and, for example, while herbivores can spread throughout most of the park, crocodiles and hippos are restricted to the vicinity of the water. As for the flora, the dominant species in the jungle zones are Khaya senegalensis, Chlorophora excelsa and Klainedoxa sp., while in the flooded areas Mytragina africana dominates. In the savannas, one cannot fail to mention Africa's most famous tree, the baobab, easily recognized by its exaggeratedly thickened trunk in which the water needed to overcome the dry period is stored.

The famous Baobab (Adamsonia digitata)

The huge agglomerations of herbivores that come to reproduce in Garamba can be explained by the extraordinary productivity of the savannah and the well-known fact that grasses grow from the base of their stems and not from the top, like trees and shrubs. In this way, once eaten by an animal or even after a fire, natural or arson, the grass can grow back. The abundant rains that fall during the wet season favor the rapid growth of some grasses such as those of the genus Hyparremia or, above all, the huge "elephant grass" that exceeds 5 m in height.

Rhinos and elephants, the lords of Garamba. 

The white rhinoceros is a very corpulent animal that reaches a height of 2 m on its back, weighs 2000 kg, and is 5 m long. Ancient data indicate that during the last century rhinoceroses were very abundant in a large part of Africa, but since they lacked natural enemies and were peaceful and trusting, the arrival of European hunters quickly brought them to the brink of extinction. There are two subspecies of white rhinoceroses: the South African and the northern one, which is precisely the one that lives in Garamba. In 1963, 1200 specimens were registered in the park, but a series of conflicts that took place in these areas during the 1960s brought about a real slaughter that led to the elimination of more than a thousand specimens. When calm returned to the region the government took protective measures, but although the rhinos were able to breed again in peace, their low birth rate, at best one calf every five or six years, makes recovery difficult. If human interference were eliminated, the species would possibly maintain a gradual increase, but again in recent years, political problems are causing soldiers, guerrillas, and mercenaries to move south to restart hunting, either to eat their meat or to trade their prized horn.

Rhino horn is actually a hardening of the skin, lacking bony support, which falls off naturally every 10 years but grows back in a single season. Rhinos tend to always defecate in the same places and then remove their own dung with their horn or feet; the cause of this behavior is obviously territorial, but the Asandeh who live in the area have a more interesting explanation: when God made the animals, the rhino was under-favored, so he gave it a needle to sew itself up; by carelessness, the animal lost the needle and in the doubt that it had swallowed it spreads its dung in the hope of finding it. 

A Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) standing in Garamba National Park

Hyenas can also be found in Garamba (Hyaenidae)

Two specimens of White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) in Garamba

Garamba National Park is surrounded by three controlled hunting reserves that act as a buffer against outside pressure and total 1 million hectares, twice the size of the park itself. This protected area, given its size and diversity of habitats, enjoys an extraordinary wealth of fauna that is not limited to rhinos and elephants. Suffice it to say that about fifty different species of mammals have been recorded, including some very rare and endangered species that would probably not exist if it were not for the protection they find in Garamba. In fact, it is worth mentioning that the national park was established in 1938 precisely for the protection of the aforementioned rhinoceros, but also for the protection of the giraffe. 

A striking fact is the possibility of successively contemplating, during a brief tour of the park, the four largest living mammals, the three already mentioned, but it is also possible to see big cats such as lions and panthers, as well as various herds of gazelles, antelopes, wildebeest, buffaloes or alcelaphs, among many others. Predators such as African wild dogs, or scavengers such as the hyena, are also frequent, and we cannot forget, of course, the many species of birds that fly through the air of this magnificent Garamba National Park.

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