Photographing Rhinos is a blog post from the BeetleCam, Camera Traps category.

Photographing Rhinos

Posted by Will on

As I was winding up the fieldwork for Land of Giants, I shifted focus to another of Tsavo’s majestic inhabitants: Black Rhino. Tsavo West is a one of the most ruggedly wild and beautiful landscapes I have encountered in Africa, and a fitting bastion for these ancient mammals. To photograph the rhinos, I partnered with ZSL and KWS.

Tsavo West is mountainous and much of it covered in thick bush. It is perfect black rhino habitat, but a very difficult place to actually see them. I have still yet to catch a glimpse of one in daylight! Since black rhinos are mostly active at night, and often follow the same paths through the bush, they were ideal subjects for my camera traps. During the month of August 2018, I deployed five Camtraptions camera traps – the same cameras that I would later re-deploy to photograph the black leopard.

Black rhinos are notoriously grumpy. On a couple of occasions I have been forced to climb trees in a hurry whilst tracking some particularly cantankerous specimens in Zambia’s North Luangwa National Park. Tsavo’s rhinos were no different. One particular individual took exception to my cameras and flattened every one that I placed in his territory. Thanks to him, I now have a collection of dented camera housings and snapped-off tripod legs!

Fortunately, I found other rhinos that were more amenable subjects and I soon captured several black and white images with my infrared-converted cameras.

Black Rhino at night, photographed in infrared with a Camtraptions camera trap.
Black Rhino at night, photographed with a Camtraptions camera trap in Tsavo, Kenya.

However, as the end of the month drew near, the shot I really wanted of a rhino under the starry night sky was still eluding me. By the end, all of my cameras were setup to try and capture this image.

Finally, two nights before I had to remove the camera traps, I captured an image in which all of the elements came together. One month of effort, for a single image…

Camera trap photo of a rhino under the stars, Tsavo, Kenya.

Having made a good start in Tsavo, I was keen to continue my rhino project in other parts of Kenya. I first visited the grassy plains of Lewa and Borana. This habitat contrasted greatly with Tsavo and I was able to get close enough on foot to be able to photograph the rhinos with a 400mm lens. There is nothing quite as exhilarating as approaching black rhinos on foot and the week I spent hiking and tracking rhinos with the rangers on Borana was particularly thrilling.

Black Rhino photographed at Lewa.
Black Rhino mother and calf feeding.

I also visited Solio on the other side of Laikipia. I initially went there for the black rhinos, but it was the white rhinos that captivated me, particularly when I came across them in the beautiful fever tree forest that follows the valley through the centre of the reserve.

White Rhino at sunrise, Solio.
Rhino and Impala at sunrise, Solio.

When I first visited Solio, I only had my traditional handheld kit with me. At the time, I wondered if it might be possible to use BeetleCam with the white rhinos but my experience to date with the short-tempered black rhinos had persuaded me that it would probably not be in BeetleCam’s best interest.

White Rhino calf and mother, Solio, Kenya.
White Rhinos photographed at Solio, Kenya

A few months later, I was a guest on the BBC’s “Animal Park”. Over the course of a couple of episodes, I used BeetleCam to capture close-up photographs of some of Longleat’s residents. It was an action-packed assignment, featuring close encounters with Wolves, Lions and Tigers. However, it was an encounter with white rhinos that really surprised me; they turned out to be incredibly inquisitive and playful! Seeing a gigantic, 2,000kg rhino frolicking in front of BeetleCam like a daft puppy was quite a sight (watch the behind-the-scenes video at the end of this post)! I began to think that perhaps I might be able to use BeetleCam to photograph the white rhinos in Kenya after all.

After a year of ruminating on the idea, I finally managed to organise a return visit to Solio. I was single-minded in my purpose: White Rhinos with BeetleCam.

I arrived at lunchtime and set out for my first session that afternoon. It did not go to plan…

I found the rhinos as they were heading back into the forest for the night. I immediately noticed that they seemed much more skittish than the placid animals that I remembered from my previous visit. I began to suspect that it was my Land Cruiser that was spooking them, as it looked very different to the Solio Lodge game-viewers that the rhinos were used to. Hanging far enough back so as not to spook them would be an additional challenge that I would need to overcome.

Next, I discovered that white rhinos have unbelievably good hearing. I could barely edge BeetleCam in their direction without their ears swivelling around and pinpointing the origin of the unfamiliar sounds and it wasn’t long before the gigantic beasts had trotted off into the undergrowth. I began to think I would be lucky to capture a single close-up image.

The next morning, I went out for sunrise and it was a similar story. I changed my approach and managed to capture a few photos by guessing where the rhinos were heading and leaving the buggy motionless in their path. I improved things further by swapping the camera in the BeetleCam for a Sony a9 which is capable of completely silent shooting. Nevertheless, it was a low-odds approach.

I headed back to the lodge for breakfast and to pick up Nat and the kids for a mid-morning game drive. We set off again in search of the rhinos. After a couple of hours, we emerged out onto an open hillside. It was here that the rhinos were gathered in small groups. It seemed to be some sort of social gathering and, unlike in the evening and early morning, it seemed that the rhinos were relaxed and had no agenda.

I deployed BeetleCam and the rhinos’ behaviour was completely different; they were no longer skittish, but inquisitive. The youngsters were even playful. At times, BeetleCam was surrounded by curious rhinos.

BeetleCam White Rhino photographed with BeetleCam.
Rhino mother and calf photographed with BeetleCam.
White Rhinos photographed with BeetleCam.
Rhino Calf playing, photographed with BeetleCam.

Over the days that followed, the late-morning photo shoot continued to be the most productive session, and the images I had imagined started to materialise. After ten years of photographing various animals across Africa, it seemed that BeetleCam had finally found its perfect match! Back in 2009, when I built the first BeetleCam, I never would have thought that ten years on, I would still be finding new subjects and new ways to use this tool.

Male White Rhino photographed with BeetleCam.
Crash of Rhinos photographed with BeetleCam.
White Rhino feeding, photographed with BeetleCam.
White Rhino photographed with BeetleCam.

You can watch my behind the scenes video from Solio here:

A big thank you to Safari Collection and Solio for partnering with me on this project. Thanks also to all those who have helped with my ongoing black rhino project: Michael Dyer, Wilson and the team at Borana Conservancy, Chris Gordon from Conservation Alpha, Zeke Davidson, Albert and Moses Wekesa from ZSL, Richard Moller from Tsavo Trust and the entire KWS team in Tsavo West.

Rhino photographed with BeetleCam.


  1. Ashwani Kaushal said: October 24, 2019 at 3:23 pm

    Very nice photography sir

  2. Brendon said: October 24, 2019 at 5:19 pm

    Absolutely ingenious.

    Using all the different techniques and manners meant having good relationships with the guides etc. Cos this it’s a game of patience to capture these wonderful photos.

    The night camera traps…. the clarity it’s spectacular. I take it the least touches are done in editing. But again, the clarity is unbelievable.

    Looks like the rhino first went through make up to get the horn so prominent.

    Keep up the great work and I truly hope your collection allows you to travel, live, educate and bring in funding for conservation.

  3. Sam said: October 24, 2019 at 6:21 pm

    Will you be publishing a book of the rhino photos?? Would love to purchase one if you are planning to.

  4. Derrick said: October 24, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    Just love the video B. You blog is so informative and generous with information. After spending 3 weeks in Botswana this year, I am looking for a spot or spots to visit next year. You certainly have given me a few pointers. Thank you.
    Cheers Derrick

  5. Cheryl Scroope said: October 24, 2019 at 9:06 pm

    Amazing! Best photos of rhinos ever!!

  6. Rob Floris said: October 24, 2019 at 9:27 pm

    What a great job do you have. Spending time in nature, studying these lovely and wonderful creatures and making sure the world gets to see them. Rasing the awareness that we cannot possibly lose them.
    Respect !

  7. Will said: October 24, 2019 at 10:34 pm

    Thanks guys, really appreciate the comments.
    @Sam, I would like to do a rhino book one day but still need a lot more photos so it won’t be any time soon. Next book will focus on the Black Leopard 🙂

  8. Fain Zimmerman said: October 24, 2019 at 11:20 pm

    Wonderful video and photos! I had no idea that rhinos could be found in such large herds! I’ve only seen them a singles or mother and calf. These seem to be doing quite well! Is pouching a problem in this area? Hope not!

  9. Robert Ostrochovsky said: October 24, 2019 at 11:21 pm

    Outstanding work and story! Beautiful!

  10. Denise Fisher said: October 25, 2019 at 1:32 am

    Love your work. Amazing photos

  11. P.Karunakaran said: October 25, 2019 at 3:02 am

    Great and dedicated works.Congratulations

  12. Suchindra C said: October 25, 2019 at 4:33 am

    Absolutely wonderful…have never seen rhino images from this perspective

  13. Frank Dunn said: October 25, 2019 at 5:05 am

    Wil: I have been a Canon fan for many years and Nikon bought into their
    CMOS system and put it to work in the COOLPIX – P1000 that is all the camera you will ever need. It goes from 24-3,000 mm so you are prepared on every event that you can imagine, even hand held out to the 3,000 mm. Beautiful work and I am envious your tour in Africa and beautiful pictures.

  14. Prakash said: October 25, 2019 at 6:55 am

    These low angle shots are amazingly beautiful. Give a different perspective to the whole WL shooting. Thanks to the Beetle cam technique, cant ever think this from a DSLR. Thanks for sharing and the whole narration.

  15. Adriana said: October 25, 2019 at 7:16 am

    Excelentes fotos, maravillosos tus trabajos!! Felicitaciones, muestras la naturaleza en su estado más natural.gracias.

  16. Andy York said: October 25, 2019 at 8:40 am

    i don’t know how much better you can get, they’re all great shots.
    Keep them coming.

  17. Mrs.Christine Dodge said: October 25, 2019 at 9:31 am

    Terrific photos and video, also very informative comments.

  18. Sarah James said: October 25, 2019 at 10:06 am

    Amazing photos! Love the video and seeing how you capture these incredible moments! Thank you for sharing. 🦏❤️

  19. Sabine MacKinnon said: October 25, 2019 at 10:27 am

    Absolutely Breathtaking.

  20. Monica said: October 25, 2019 at 1:50 pm

    Well done. What a special adventure. The world needs to see this.

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