Askari Wa Kifaru’s dilemma

IMAGE (C) YOUNG WORLD, THE HINDU, 2015

The two-horned rhino is in danger. If the tiny oxpecker, ‘the guard of the rhino’, can’t help, will the SPOOK Club step in? To be continued…

In a deep and dark forest in South Africa, a lone two-horned black rhino stood dozing in a patch of tall grass. It was a chilly moonless night. The big rhino was nervous. He hated such nights for it was then that poachers attacked. Sudden rustling of leaves, whispers and giggles snapped him out of his slumber. Could it be poachers who were coming towards him?

“Psst, hey oxpecker, where are you? I think I am in danger from poachers. Raise an alarm!” whispered the agitated animal to a red-billed, grey-brown bird perched on a low branch of a tree nearby.

The bird opened his eyes. He was groggy and annoyed at being woken up.

Petite protector

“Why are you telling me? How can I, a small bird, protect you? You weigh 1,000 kilos. You are six feet tall and 12 feet long. Only a forest ranger can help you.”

The rhino was furious. He turned away from the bird and he let out a volley of water on the sleepy bird.

“That should teach you a lesson. You feed on ticks on my skin. In return, you are supposed to warn me of danger. Isn’t that why they call you Askari Wa Kifaru in Swahili meaning ‘guard of the rhino’? You ungrateful bird!” he thundered, quite forgetting the lurking poachers.

All of a sudden, the flash of a torchlight shone on the rhino’s face. He blinked and twitched his ears that looked so small behind his two-feet-long main horn.

“Rhino sir is right!” came a voice from behind the torchlight. “It is the duty of every oxpecker to guard this critically endangered black rhino on whose back he rides all day long. My name is Kea, President of the Society for Protection of Our Own Kind. My team and I are here to make sure that man does not poach on these animals for their horns.”

The rhino relaxed. His triangular upper lip with a small finger-like projection stretched into a big smile.

“Welcome to South Africa!” he said warmly to the SPOOK members who stood in awe around him.

“Why is he called a black rhino when he is actually grey?” asked Ms. Kiwi .

“Why does man want his horns?” asked Weta.

Tuatara cracked a silly joke. “I think he fits rhino horns on his trucks.”

Kaka didn’t think that was funny. “Rhino horns are used in traditional Chinese medicines that are sold in China and Vietnam. They are also used as dagger sheaths in Yemen and other Middle East countries. They fetch a lot of money. So poachers kill these poor animals and saw off their horns.

The oxpecker was drenched and shivering. He was upset with all that was happening around him.

“I am sick and tired of this ill-tempered beast. Why don’t you SPOOK members cut off his horns so that no one attacks him? My life would be easier,” he said.

Kea thought for a moment and nodded.

Askari Wa Kifaru, that is a great idea but I think I have an even better one to protect these rhinos.”

“What is it? What is it?” asked Weta in eagerness.

… to be continued

Word List

Groggy: Dazed, weak, or unsteady.

Swahili: A Bantu language, also known as Kiswahili, is the first language of the Swahili people in the African Great Lakes region and other parts of Southeast Africa.

Dagger sheath: A case of leather or other material for covering a knife or dagger.

Ill-tempered: Irritable or grumpy.

Published as part of a series titled SPOOK Nook in Young World, The Hindu on June 11, 2015.

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