Animal Celebrities: “Matilda” – Black Rhino Bull – (1870-1951) – Hluhluwe’s most famous Black Rhino fondly named “Waltzing Matilda”
The Tale of Matilda
Following in the footsteps of Huberta the Hippo’s epic 1928-1931 journey, which had created worldwide publicity for Zululand’s game reserves, the next animal celebrity to become a visitors favourite and make international headlines was the one-horned Black Rhino bull, fondly named “Waltzing Matilda”, because of his swaggering gait, by visiting Australian troops, on a stopover en route to the theatre of World War II in Europe.
During the mid-thirties after the first huts in Hluhluwe were built, the visitors were encouraged to enjoy the thrill of seeing the areas famed Black Rhino, in fact the only South African reserve in which they could be easily seen at close quarters. It was then apparent that the favourite would become a one-horned bull, later to be named “Waltzing Matilda”, which became quite attached to his protectors, Capt.Potter and the game guard staff.
A significant growing band of wildlife enthusiasts soon began to appreciate that the last sanctuary for the countries remaining endangered rhinoceros were Zululand’s game reserves, and despite all the pressures by the agricultural and farming communities to have them deproclaimed, they wouldn’t succeed; although there was still a tough fight ahead.
As a youngster in 1942 I vividly recall seeing my first Rhino, indeed it was “Matilda”, which was to be the case for many visitors, as he became the celebrity of Hluhluwe. Thereafter on every annual holiday we would make sure to find him with the loyal game guard, Wellington, little realising that in the years to come I would become very involved photographing both species with groups of enthusiasts.
Ian Player, who would one day succeed Capt.Potter as Conservator, reflects on “Matilda” in his enthralling narratives in “Voices from the Wilderness” as follows;
“I remembered my very first visit to the reserve. It was 1947 and we drove late into the reserve and reported to Captain Potter, he ticked us off for arriving after dark but was very decent about it. The next morning on a small hill overlooking the Manzimbomvu stream I saw my first black rhino, a famous beast known as “Waltzing Matilda”. It had been given its name by visiting Australian servicemen. Captain Potter came along with an Admiral Tovey, a visiting VIP. I will never forget how Captain Potter gave us as much attention while we were watching “Waltzing Matilda” as he gave the Admiral. Little did I know that five years later I would be working in the same reserve under Captain Potter’s son, Peter.”
Eventually old age caught up with this grand old rhino of the Zululand valleys and the world sadly reflected on the special memories he had given to so many.
NPB Press Release: August 28, 1951: Pietermaritzburg — Matilda, the one-horned black rhino bull which has lived in the Hluhluwe Game Reserve for about 80 years, died this morning. The rhino was named by visiting Australian soldiers because of his waltzing gait. A Natal Parks Board spokesman said the famous wild bull had died of old age. “During the past few winters he ailed noticeably and this cold wet spell has apparently been too much for him.”
Again Ian Player reflects on a special moment, which he shares with the readers;
“I always remember when Captain Potter died and his ashes were brought back after the cremation to Hluhluwe. The Reverend Hardwicke came to the reserve to pray as we scattered the ashes. We went out onto Hlaza Hill, which is on the east side of the camp. As the ceremony to spread the ashes began a black rhino suddenly came from out of the bush and began walking straight towards us. The guards and guides who were standing nearby gasped and said it was the spirit of Matilda who had come to pay its respects, because Matilda would always oblige Captain Potter when he had VIP’s by making itself visible”.
No one in their wildest imagination could then have anticipated that yet another animal celebrity would have a dramatic affect on the future of the regions game reserves, this time it was to be a wandering male lion, making “Nkozi’s Trek” in 1958 into the sanctuary of the Umfolozi Wilderness area.
From: “The Saga of the Zululand Lions & Game Reserves” by Tim Condon (to be published in four volumes in 2009/2010)