'That's Zazu, over there.'
This man knew his audience. Cloaked in khaki and epaulettes, with the kind of dusty tan earned by living a life out of doors, he was pointing at a proud, beaky bird perched atop a nearby thorn tree. And sure enough, there he was: Zazu. Also known as a hornbill, for those less familiar with Disney's The Lion King.
Although lacking the film's all-singing, all-dancing cartoon cast, the scenery surrounding us was like The Lion King brought to life: baboons racing across roads, staggeringly beautiful skies, lions roaring in the distance. We were in the middle of the South African bush, in the Blue Canyon conservancy to be precise; a place which quickly came to feel like home during my time as a volunteer with a unique anti-poaching project.
The nearby town of Hoedspruit is home of the Rhino Revolution initiative. It was launched in 2011 in response to the devastating impact of poaching upon South Africa's rhino population; it aims to protect and increase rhino numbers through vigilant anti-poaching, dehorning the rhino (and thus making them less valuable to potential poachers), as well as increasing awareness of the challenges facing the endangered rhino. What makes the project I was involved in unique is the use of ex-racehorses to form a mounted anti-poaching unit. Having succeeded on the track, these magnificent horses are put to great use in the bush. They can cover far more ground than guards on foot, whilst being nimble and brave enough to scale terrain too tough for vehicles. Their presence is a real deterrent to poachers; it's like the Revolution's secret weapon.
As a volunteer, my days in South Africa were spent riding over, under and through the thickest, thorniest bush, tracking rhino on foot and on horseback and rattling around the reserve in an authentic, albeit slightly battered open-topped Land Rover. It was absolutely thrilling, and such a rewarding experience. Coming from the wilds of Middle England, I was stunned by the savage beauty of South Africa; there's nothing in the world that comes close to those starlit nights, or the peaceful majesty of game roaming the bush.
What I wasn't prepared for was the sheer majesty of these vulnerable rhino. They have been hunted almost to the point of extinction. It has to stop. Sharing the planet with such incredible creatures is a privilege, one which we have abused for too long - but it's not too late.
Find out more about the Rhino Revolution project here: http://rhinorevolution.org