Step Away From The Rhino

Step away from the rhino...well, maybe not this rhino.
Step away from the rhino…well, maybe not this rhino.

A few weeks ago I was perusing the news online when I came across a headline about a rhinoceros attack. I normally find the news either incredibly infuriating or simply plain boring, but this article piqued my interest. On January 12th, a woman from South Africa was gored by a rhinoceros while on her honeymoon. She and her husband had been vacationing in a nature reserve and were out on a jeep tour when the tour guide told them to pop out of the car so he could get their photo with some rhinoceros standing nearby. The couple was apprehensive, but the guide assured them it would be fine. Just after the guide snapped the photo, the woman was gored from behind by the male rhino. She was hospitalized for a collapsed lung and some broken ribs but will recover. She was lucky.

These type of incidents are teaching moments for me. I’m continually telling my children that wild animals are wild animals. I recently showed them a video of tourists in Yellowstone who were walking on a boardwalk too close to a bison. Now, perhaps they thought that bison understand the right of way implied by a boardwalk and that this bison, therefore, would yield the way with perfect etiquette. The bison, however, not giving a flying fig about the human-placed boardwalk in the middle of its territory, charged at them. They all escaped unscathed, but at the end of the video an adult is shown laughing at the whole chase, as if it’s just a cute story. I shake my head.

I wonder about humanity sometimes. I wonder whether we’re bright enough to survive. My children hear me comment to this effect quite often. They hear my tales of rhinoceros attacks and charging bison and understand my disdain for the truly inane things people do sometimes. First thing this morning, Joe came into my room carrying a small, model rhino, which he set on the bathroom counter.

“I was just thinking about that lady who got attacked by that rhino. What was she thinking?” he said. “I mean, seriously. Why would you even get that close to a rhinoceros? They weigh over a ton and have two sharp horns.”

“I don’t know, Joe,” I replied.

“They’re not house pets. They’re wild animals. WILD animals. You don’t know what they’re going to do.”

At this point I was feeling proud that Joe understood the point I had tried to get across by telling them that story. I was patting myself on the back for a job well done.

“I just don’t know what she was thinking,” he went on.

“Well, I guess that because the guide said it would be fine the couple assumed it really would be. But, I’m with you. I would not choose to stand within feet of one of those animals. I like to think I’d know better,” I said.

I’d know better,” he said. “She was just stupid,” Joe announced.

When he said this, it at last occurred to me that Joe was repeating verbatim what I had said out loud to myself when I was reading the news story that day. I was blown away by the complete lack of common sense this couple had shown. I know that people have a difficult time with perceived authority in situations when they feel they are being pressured, but isn’t there a point when you realize the danger and simply step away from the rhino? Still, I’m not teaching the right lesson if along with the animal safety tip he’s hearing my commentary that people who stand with rhinos might not be the sharpest knives in the drawer. So, I attempted to correct my misstep.

“Joe, maybe you should try to be more kind? It’s not as if she set out that day to be gored by a rhino. It just happened. Someday you might do something stupid and need some understanding,” I suggested.

“Probably not that stupid,” came his instant reply.

I didn’t know how to respond to that comment. On the one hand, he obviously missed my point about being kind, and that’s not good. But, on the other hand, I agree that he is clever enough to know you don’t get within feet of a rhinoceros. I have high hopes that he would be on the winning end of a Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest contest. In the end, I decided that all I could do was drop it for now and try to do a better job of not constantly commenting about humans performing stupid human tricks.

When I see in my children the worst of myself I am reminded that, especially when I’m not paying attention, I’m setting an example for them every day. I teach them as much with my snarkiness and impatience as I do with my generosity and love. If I could only figure out a way to get them to tune me out when I’m not at my best, I might be able to raise children who would be forgiving and kind and who also would know well enough to just step away from the rhino.



  1. Interesting. I’m feeling you on this b/c I’ve had similar conversations with people older than your son, where I find myself thinking, “Dang, have some compassion – none of us know exactly what that would’ve been like”, etc. Lots of them, actually! Yet I know I’m constantly thinking – what were you thinking?! I do try to keep it filtered (and just in my head). I bet you’ll have many opps to steer him where you want him to be 🙂

    1. I’ll bet you’re right. My biggest downfall comes in the car. I am a chauffeur, after all, and there are plenty of opportunities on the road to express my displeasure with human behavior. I will have to do a better job reining myself in. 😉

  2. My grandma was an avid people watcher – she always said it was her favorite past-time.
    But she also reminded whichever grandchild was closest to her on the park bench that we, ourselves, provide much humor for our fellow man as well… and if we’re going to indulge, we can’t get upset when it’s our turn to ‘be the show’ …

    I don’t worry too much about lapses in pointing out theless-than-shining life moments of others-
    I’m the Queen of “Hey – Watch this! This is How-Not-To-Do-It”

    I consider my ‘duhs’ part of my contribution to our collective continued evolution – – –
    Great Post!

    1. Tamrah…I love that approach. I will have to do that with myself (and my kids)…remember that I too am part of the flawed human race and occasionally make fairly idiotic choices. I’ll try to notice it quietly, though, to avoid sharing too much of my dubious behavior with the rest of the world. 🙂

      1. Awwww… C’mon now – – – it’s your turn to be on stage – – we had you scheduled for right after my first soldering job….
        I do still have my eyebrows…..

  3. As we Southerners say, the last four words a Redneck says are “Hey Bubba, watch this.”

    I look back at my life, and muse about what I was thinking at the tune, and how lucky I was…. He’ll have those same moments.

  4. Thanks for this! I completely agree with all of your sentiments. I have always been frustrated with people who choose to have wild animals as pets for the same reason. And at the same time, I feel like my mantra (mostly to my kids) is “be nice”! But I feel like they often see me with my snark and sarcasm towards others (especially while I’m driving), as doing the opposite. Thank you for the reminder and the laughs! 😉

  5. While we were on our road trip we got the opportunity to stay with an awesome couple who had two boys already grown and left the nest. While we don’t have kids ourselves, we plan to one day and we love listening to advice given from parents. Something that couple told us really rang a bell for me… Parents are doing the best that they can with what they have and know at the moment. She also said that she still to this day is apologizing to her sons, saying sorry I don’t always get it right, when she realizes something she taught them was wrong.

    The example we were talking about was Christian versus Secular music. Because she was raised in a Christian home where they weren’t allowed to listen to any other kind of music. So she had, had that same rule for her own children. As her sons got a little older and questioned her reasons, she began questioning them herself. So later instead of exiling all non-christian music, she would just sit down with her sons. They would listen to hit songs of the day that their friends were listening to, and they would focus on the lyrics. Then they were allowed to make up their own mind, after hearing and discussing the lyrics whether they wanted to listen to that song anymore. She said, I’m sorry boys I don’t always get it right. And corrected her decision on banning types of music. And she said it amazed her at how good their decisions were after discussing the lyrics of the songs, like “Man, that song really puts down women. I don’t want to listen to it anymore.”

    Anyways, point being – parents do the best they can with what they have at the time. And what I really appreciated from her was her genuine honesty with her own children about her mistakes and imperfection.

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