By the time we reach the target area, two of the rhinos have run off -- leaving a lone, pregnant female in range. Dr. Bester and I park the Subaru and, following radio calls from the chopper, close the last hundred yards on foot.
Whoa. The rhino looks like a tank with legs, its body seemingly made of steel plating. Its horn is huge, too. It's unnerving to see such a massive, almost prehistoric beast standing on the same ground as we are -- with no solid-steel bars in-between. Dr. Bester moves closer, the radio alive with chatter, the guides behind us tip-toeing through the grass. The old joke runs through my mind: If she charges, I don't have to outrun the rhino. I just need to outrun Dr. Bester.
The doctor loads the dart with M99. Just a small amount will bring the rhino to her knees. But that same dose would kill every one of us. No wonder game vets are forbidden from carrying the stuff without also bringing a supply of antidote. His rifle loaded, Dr. Bester moves in, raises the gun, and fires. It's a perfect shot -- right in the rhino's heroic ass. Startled, she starts to run off, but almost immediately her legs freeze up. In barely a minute, she's down, snorting loudly but completely immobile. The team moves in.
In part because the rhino is carrying a calf, Dr. Bester insists on no more than ten minutes to do our job. Quickly he pulls out a syringe, drawing a few blood samples through the rhino's hide. Next he secures a tough, resin-shrouded radio transmitter around her ankle. For the next several years, Dr. Bester and others will be able to monitor the movements of this rhino and her newborn -- the better to keep watch over this pair from a species shockingly depleted by poachers seeking to cash in on the disgusting market for rhino horn. I take a few moments to pat the rhino's huge forehead, drawing my fingertips across her thick, wrinkled skin. She's breathing heavily, snorting in disapproval but for now powerless to act.
His work completed with time to spare, Dr. Bester injects the antidote -- and motions for us to move away. Fast. In less the 30 seconds the rhino is finding her legs. Soon she's crashing through the brush again, no doubt eager to find us for a little payback. We slip back to the Forester, and head back to camp. Celebratory sundowners for everyone!
No doubt about it: The Forester may officially be a crossover, but it's got the guts to play in the big leagues. It's no surprise to me, therefore, that several weeks later my Motor Trend colleagues name it 2014 Sport/Utility of the Year. This is one well-rounded, do-anything rig. The real deal.
Meantime, back in the U.S., I'm left with a lingering case of what the French call le mal d'Afrique -- literally, "the African sickness." This continent gets a hold of you -- the vast and unspoiled plains, the remarkable wildlife roaming unbound by walls or zoo cages, the rich aroma of earth and grass after an afternoon rainshower. Africa speaks to a man's soul. And for le mal d-Afrique, there is only one cure: One day, you must go back.
Bet You Didn't Know -- South Africa
- In 1896, a man from Pretoria imported a Benz Velo from Benz & Co. of Mannheim, Germany. It's believed to be the first car in the Southern Hemisphere.
- In the township of Soweto, just outside the South African capitol of Johannesburg, lies the only street in the world to house two Nobel Peace Prize winners: Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu -- both of whom have houses on Vilakazi Street.
- South Africa is number one in the world in gold production and holds 80 percent of the world's platinum reserves.
- Four of the world's five fastest land animals live in South Africa: the cheetah (70 mph) and the lion, wildebeest, and Thomson's gazelle (each about 50 mph).
- Roughly 73 percent of the world's remaining rhinos live in South Africa -- about 20,500 white rhinos and 5000 black rhinos, a variant considered critically endangered.
- The world's largest diamond was found in South Africa in 1905. Weighing 3106.75 carats uncut, the "Cullinan" was eventually cut into 106 separate, near-flawless diamonds (including the 530.2-carat "Great Star of Africa"); they now form a portion of the British Crown Jewels.
- In South Africa, it's technically illegal to sit closer than six feet to a member of the opposite sex if he or she is wearing a swimsuit. In this regard, South Africa is not like Brazil.
- South Africa has the world's cheapest electricity -- and generates two-thirds of the electricity for all of Africa.
- The Vredefort Dome in the Free State Province, result of a meteorite impact some 2023 million years ago (before the arrival of plants or animals on earth), forms the center of world's largest impact crater. At 186 miles across, it's twice the size of the crater from the meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.