Land Rovers and rhinos!

Land Rovers and rhinos!The Land Rovers at the West Midland Safari Park are more than just transport. At times, they need to intervene between a charging rhino and its intended target! In charge of both machines and the wild animals is a man once told he might never walk again…

Words and photography: Nigel Fryatt

For such a big off-roader, it was surprisingly nimble, and moved effortlessly across the wet grass. Grip and directional ability were precise and the target destination would be achieved without any need to select low range. It was then that the Land Rover intervened, gently encouraging the massive two tonne rhino to slow down and alter course, the big off-roader slamming on its inbuilt brakes while giving out something of a disgruntled ‘huff’…

We were sitting watching this from the safety of Bob Lawrence’s battered and bruised Land Rover Discovery. The rhino in question had been ambling, with surprising agility, towards a young giraffe that had lolloped away rather quickly. The ranger in the Land Rover Defender 90 had seen the potential problem and ‘encouraged’ the massive horned beast to change its mind, and direction. Just in case, the Land Rover had a substantial bull bar (‘rhino bar?’) at the front, but somehow, if it ever came to it, you knew who would come off best. Indeed, one camel-coloured Discovery also had a mismatched black door: ‘Rhino damage’, explained Bob. The 4x4s at the West Midland Safari and Leisure Park have a tough life, and are worked hard; much like every one of the rangers driving them. Experienced campaigners, all of them, none more so than Director of Wildlife, Bob Lawrence.

West Midland Safari Park

It could have been oh so different had Bob not received that nudge in the back while playing football. The resultant fall caused severe spinal damage that led to one doctor suggesting he look for a desk job, ‘with a suitable chair’. After bone grafts, spinal fusion, and the injection of bone granules from a German cow (some 25 years before we discovered BSE), the fact that he actually managed to walk again was a surprise to the medical staff. A nice sedate office job was suggested. Instead, Bob took his sister’s advice and went for a job she’d seen advertised. It involved him getting on his motorbike and driving from Kent to the Midlands, still in his medical spinal corset, to start work at the Park on Christmas Day 1973. He’d never been to a zoo in his life…


Well worth a drive in your 4×4. The West Midland Safari and Leisure Park is at Spring Grove, Bewdley, Worcestershire DY12 1LF.



 coverTo read the full report see the October 2013 issue of 4×4 Magazine. Buy it here

More from 4x4 magazine online