A Counter Poaching Mission to Save White Rhino in Africa

 Photo made available in support of  GEOS Foundation  courtesy of Stefan Smuts. 

Photo made available in support of GEOS Foundation courtesy of Stefan Smuts. 

It was 5 am, and my feet were treading through the sandy shores of Palm Beach, FL alongside a squad of guys as we made our way towards Donald Trump's Mar A Lago. It wasn't our typical route, but the pool was shut down at the Sailfish Club, so we decided to do beach runs and swims on Tuesday and Thursdays rather than our usual lake trail run and pool swim. Bro-Am, a pack of dudes ranging from 24 years of age to maybe early 50s. Mostly entrepreneurs, or self-employed alpha types gathering for the sake of camaraderie and inspiration.

"Nick, have you ever been to Africa? No, no, I've never been." Spoken as one foot fell in front of the other while jockeying for position. "You have a creative agency right?"

Yeah, we work with a lot of brands to create marketing content. Why? What's up?

"I have this project in Mozambique my non-profit has been funding, and we need some help bringing awareness to the cause."

Interesting, yeah, I'm down to learn more.

Fast forward several months, and you'll find new branding for said non-profit, a website, a narrative, and a mission that would transcend well beyond our conversation on the beach that morning.

The sound of helicopter blades spooled up as we entered with our heads tucked and eyes squinted - click, click - good to go? Roger!

My first flight of many over the next two weeks, Richard, our pilot set off towards the lake across the African bush right before sunset to corral a rhino that had made his way too far down the reserve boundaries. Upon arrival, we noticed there were four rhino, assets as the counter poaching team called them, that needed to be coaxed away from the wide-open field near the river due to the threat level by poachers in the area. 

We were at ground zero of the rhino poaching crisis on the Kruger National Park (KNP) and Mozambique border. This very location is home to a substantial number of poachers coming in from Mozambique and going into KNP where the largest concentration of remaining white rhino live.

Naturally, you can expect to find a lot of animals near water sources but in this particular scenario, it was getting dark, and as the sun fell the more dangerous it became for these assets due to poacher activity around dusk and dawn.

We came in hot around the waterway and swooped in low towards the assets. Richard noticed that there was a group of them including one lone male off in the distance. Sweeping left then right, the helicopter dove towards the rhino as if to nudge him along. You'll see in the video here just how majestic they look running in slow motion; stunning and graceful for any animal much less one that weighs a few tons. 

This experience was evening one of 14 and one that I wouldn't soon forget. Back at zero alpha (headquarters) the Colonel and his men were settling in for dinner. The pet warthog Vharki greeted us at the frame of a doorway that represented the main entrance of the cinderblock building. No frills here at HQ, these men, and one woman, lived a rural existence among the wildlife in the African bush. I soaked in the last bit of sunlight before entering while hesitantly giving Vharki a pat on her head staying clear of her tusks. 

Over the next two weeks, the experiences were compounding; we would make our way that night to hilltop camp, camera gear, food rations and uniforms in hand. 

Evening 1 of 14.

NICHOLAS MOHNACKY