Matobo: A rhino experience of a lifetime

Ian Harmer is known as the tour guide to hear in Africa. He’s passionate, opinionated, well spoken, and has unmatched knowledge and ties to the local communities.


He grew up in Zimbabwe and worked a handful of jobs from basic service work to managing a restaurant. He always knew he wanted to live in the bush, but struggled to find a job.

His dream job was to be a park ranger protecting wildlife, but it was unheard of for a white person to have such a job. So he set his sights on becoming a tour guide.

Ian shared with us that he now prefers his job as he informs people on the plight of rhinos. It gives him a platform to share his knowledge with others and still gives him time for conservation work.

Featured in Animal Planet and a number of documentaries, Ian is well known for his passion. He’s an encyclopedia, ready to list off dates and statistics to answer any question.

Team Imani was lucky to spend an entire day with Ian as our Matobo National Park guide.

Ian’s take on Cecil the lion

In our briefing the night before, we inevitably ended up in a deep discussion on the conservation of rhinos. Pauline brought up the controversy surrounding Cecil, the lion that the American dentist hunted and killed in Hwange National Park.

Ian was furious about it. Not at the dentist, but at how the media portrayed Cecil. What the media didn’t tell you was that Cecil was 14 years old, kicked out of the pride, and would have died a slow painful death likely within the next month.

In his mind, the American dentist paid $50,000 to shoot an animal that was already dead. Every cent he paid went straight to conservation.

While he doesn’t like to see lions die, he sees the value in the money hunters provide. As he put it, “If these [hunters] want to kill a lion, they are going to do it no matter what. Let them kill the one that is dying anyway. Hunting is the lesser of two evils.”

A reminder to always question

I was absolutely smitten with Ian. As you’ll probably be able to tell, his opinions will shape my next few blog posts. Hopefully you’ll hear the passion I heard in his words.

That being said, I was reminded of my naiveté that day. A few people in the group had mentioned that they weren’t convinced by his arguments. They wanted a second opinion from Google, the ultimate fact checker. I recognized that I was taking everything he said at face value. It was a good reminder to always question what you’re told and get opinions on both sides of the table when possible.

Still, there is no argument that this guy knows what he’s talking about. Later I’ll let him tell his story, because even if it may be biased, you should hear it.

But enough of Ian! I’m blushing over here.

A day spent chasing rhinos

Our day in Matobo National Park was unreal.

It started with a short walk to a group of rhinos in the wild. We saw a teenager eyeing a female. Putting it bluntly, he was looking for some action.


The female was a little further down with another younger bull and her four-month-old baby.

Every rhino is protected by 24-hour surveillance. They have a shoot to kill policy

At one point, we were crowded in a semicircle around the lazy trio. But someone must have gotten too close for their comfort; in a blink of an eye, they were standing and huffing at us.

Moderately terrifying, as these guys would win a race against Mr. Bolt no problem. They can get up to speeds of 55 km/hr. Ian said we were fine and communicated to them by imitating rhino noises.

I do feel I have to manage your expectations if you come to Matobo. The only reason we were able to get within a few steps of touching the rhinos was because Ian built a relationship with them over their lifetimes. The rhinos know his smell and noises, as they cannot see two feet in front of them.

Then, the baby started making adorable whiny noises to let his mother know he was thirsty.  Yup, I witnessed a baby rhino feeding from its mother from about five feet away. It was the most incredible wildlife experience of my life.

Along the way, Ian introduced us to a number of plants that ranged from toxic poisons to soap substitutes to hallucinogenic drugs.

We spent the day meandering around the park’s beautiful mountainous landscape. It’s worth noting these rocks are over 300 million years old, some of the oldest in the world.

A teaser into the Bushmen life

We also had the opportunity to see some Bushmen paintings ranging from 200 to 60,000 years old. Granted we probably couldn’t make out the ones from that long ago; the Bushmen painted over the older ones.

The Bushmen are a very unique people. They are genetically distinct and operate differently in how they act, think, and believe. The world could learn a lesson from their mindset.

Naturally, Ian had an entire talk on the Bushmen, so I’ll leave you with his words as I know I will not be able to do them justice.

It was a longwinded and unique experience. One I’ll surely hold in my memories forever.

One thought on “Matobo: A rhino experience of a lifetime

  1. Pingback: Matobo: A rhino experience of a lifetime — ticket for two |

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