The black rhinoceros is a great, blundering, archaic beast that you wouldn't expect to pacify with a little friendly scratch behind the ears. Once a rhino starts rolling, it's as hard to stop as a rockslide on Kilimanjaro. There's something enigmatic and prehistoric about this creature, as if it were designed by a committee of paleontologists.
But here is Makai, a 5-year-old, 1,500-pound African rhino nuzzling up to Tom Mantzel, who feeds her bits of a branch from a live oak and tickles her behind the ear. Fortunately, a pipe-and-steel cable fence insures the amity of this relationship.
"Doesn't she look like a giant mouse with ears?" says Mantzel fondly. He has two of these inelegant, armor-plated critters on his Waterfall Ranch west of Glen Rose, Texas. The other is Macora, a potential consort for Makai. Neither one particularly looks like a Mouseketeer.
Makai and Macora live in their own pastures with all the comforts of home familiar to rhinoceroses. They graze and gambol in broken country that looks amazingly like the African savanna where they grew up. All that's missing are baobab trees, tsetse flies and yellow-billed oxpeckers.
Mantzel's ranch sprawls over 1,500 acres in the fossil-encrusted northern edge of the Texas Hill Country near Dallas, only a bone's throw from Dinosaur Valley State Park. He has more than 800 African animals, including gemsbok, wildebeests, giraffes and ostriches.
Mantzel, 37, has put the ranch together over the last 11 years with money he made from oil and private ventures. He's one of a growing number of landowners who breed and raise big-game animals on their ranches. "I've never had a cow on my land," he says, "and the second half of that is that I never will."
Game ranching has become a Texas-sized industry: There are now more axis deer and blackbuck antelope roaming in the Longhorn State than in India and Pakistan, their native homelands. On some Texas ranches you pay $4,000 to bag a European red stag inside a barbed-wire enclosure. This isn't allowed at Waterfall. "I'm not against hunting," says Mantzel, "but it would be about as sporting as shooting Cat." Cat is his pet Labrador.
Mantzel and the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife and Game Coin brought the rhinos to his ranch five months ago as part of an experimental conservation program. The black rhino once ranged over much of Africa. Now there are fewer than 15,000, and their numbers are dropping rapidly. Poachers slaughter them for their horns, which aren't really horns, but keratin, a fibrous substance. In Asia, powdered rhino horn is prized in the folk pharmacopoeia. Mantzel thinks the black rhinos will be extinct in the wild within 20 years.
At times he trades animals with zoos and other game ranches. They often rotate females to improve the genetic stock. For his part, Mantzel gets to keep half the offspring. A starter program for Grévy's zebras with the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums was particularly successful. The animals had dwindled in number, but now you can see a small herd from his ranchhouse window. Sometimes he ships animals back to their natural habitats. In grand impartial conservationist style, Mantzel recently sold addax antelope to both Israel and Libya. "This isn't the kind of business you get in to make money," he says. "It's really just an extension of my childhood love for dogs, rabbits and tropical fish. Basically, I'm still a kid." He is abetted in his youthful enterprise by Bill Hankins, Kelley Snodgrass, Bruce Williams and foreman Casey Clark.
Mantzel, Cosmopolitan's Bachelor of the Month for January, reminds you a little of the young Jimmy Stewart. Indeed, he seems as diffident as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. As a boy in Austin, he used to wade up and down the creeks with his fishing pole. "I'd land a bass, and turn it loose," he says. "Every once in a while I'd see a deer, and that was a bonus."
Nowadays, cruising the ranch in his battered yellow '48 Jeep, the bonuses come about every 15 seconds. To help finance a foundation to educate children in the ways of wildlife, he has cut roads through a 500-acre parcel, which he calls Fossil Rim Wildlife Ranch. "I'm letting tourists drive through at $4.50 for adults and $2.50 for kids under 12," he says, "but there won't be any hippo boat rides or stuffed camels to sit on and get your picture taken." Fossil Rim looks like an authentic game preserve. In fact, tourists aren't permitted out of their cars; Mantzel learned the risks firsthand six years ago when he barely escaped a near-fatal goring by a scimitar-horned oryx.
But don't go to Fossil Rim expecting to see rhinos. Mantzel keeps them out of sight in a far corner of the ranch. He calls on them several times a week with mud baths and offerings of oak. He hoses down a patch of dirt in Makai's pasture and watches as she circles, straddles and then gingerly plops down into it. Using her horn as a fulcrum, Makai blissfully flops in the slop. "She's in hog heaven," says Mantzel. So is he.
"I ask you," he says. "How many people ever get to make their own mud wallow for their own rhino?"
For Mantzel, trying to keep pace with a running Makai can be an all-out effort.