Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Real Safari: this ain't no Lion King

By the hundreds Toyota Land Cruisers, packed full of homo sapien sapiens, flock into East African national parks in search of "the big 5", the term given by white hunters for the 5 most dangerous and difficult animals to catch: the lion, the elephant, the African buffalo, the rhino, and the leopard (if there were to be 6 it would be the Tsetse fly).

Elephants in the Serengeti

The second we invade their homeland we want a show. No visitor is unique in this regard. The first question our guide, Tumaini, asked us was, "What do you want to see?" and besides my rather odd desire to see giraffes run, the entire car wanted to see lions kill a zebra. The possibilities of observing wild animal behavior are high while on safari but what I quickly learned is that not everyone on safari realizes that 1. They are not sitting at home watching a Disney movie 2. This is not the Discovery Channel's meticulously edited version of "Life in the Serengeti" 3. This is real--yes, including the lion--so perhaps attempting to pet her is not the smartest idea.

Visitors at Terengire NP observing 2 lions mate

On our first day on safari we found ourselves at Terengire National Park. Located 2.5 hours from Arusha, this park is famous for the many baobab trees that dot its landscape and the many elephant, zebra, and giraffe that live within its boarders. While on our first evening drive our driver heard "Simba"(lion in swahili) over the radio. We instantly stopped and a radio exchange occurred. Within seconds we were reversing up a hill, whipping a u-turn and zooming off to meet the many others wanting a glimpse at a lion. 

Upon arrival we learned that it wasn't just one lion, but rather two, a male and female, that were engaging in a mating ritual. You have got to be kidding me, I thought to myself. How often does one get the opportunity to watch lions mating outside of the Discovery Channel?!?  The answer is this: it's rare. Lions mate roughly 2 times a year in what is rather long and tiring process because it occurs every 15-20 minutes over a 48 hour time period. 

As I sat there, with binoculars and camera in hand, I could only think how here I am watching lion porn and in a weird way enjoying it. In fact all of the 25 people packed in Land Cruisers were into it. After one of the "sessions", that lasted under a minute, an older women in the truck next to me said to her group mates, "wow, that was quick and rather disappointing". Confused by this comment, because how can one be disappointed by watching lions mate, I pondered it for a moment and then questioned what lions--or any of the animals--say about us. 

Do they comment on our hair color, choice of clothing or our social behaviors? Do they, when walking past the outhouses at campsites, comment on the smell? 

When a jeep full of tourists roll up, snaps shots of the vervet monkey and makes comments on how blue its balls are and red its penis, do they say to each other,"Do you see that thing coming out of that persons face? It keeps getting bigger and smaller. Do you think it is a sign that they are aroused?"

Although we come in droves looking for the animals that covered our walls as children, one of the most interesting aspects of safari in my opinion are the humans themselves. The way that us humans observe and question animal behavior is fascinating. We are mythicized by the way male lions laze around and yet still have numerous lady lions to mate with. We are enthralled by the way leopards stalk, sprint and finally slash their prey. We are grossed out by the way ostriches release their bowels and then claim them to be one of the more disgusting animals living in the Serengeti not stopping to think about what we look like while evacuating our bowels.We are highly critical of these animals--I found myself wondering how the hippos survive sitting in water filled with their own waste--and yet, I could not get enough.
Lion and his cub in the Northern Serengeti

And so from the Terengire we then headed for the open plains of the Serengeti in search of more raw animal behavior. Spanning 14,763 square kilometers, the Serengeti is most notably famous for the great wildebeest migration where the roughly1.5 million wildebeest that live on the Serengeti migrate north to Kenya between May and July. The great migration is a site to be seen and although we came at the end of the migration (most had already crossed into Kenya) it was no less spectacular. Our first day in the park was spent in the central part where there is a lot of animal activity and where most visitors find themselves.Within 2 hours of our morning game drive we saw a cheetah stalk and kill a gazelle, 3 lioness stalk (and miss) Thompson gazelles, leopards lounging in the trees and tiny lion cubs playing in the grass. That evening we set up at one of the local camp grounds where we were literally surrounded by wildlife. Although I can only imagine the splendor that is the Four Seasons Serengeti, I must say that camping inside the park was an experience that should not be missed--how often can you say that you woke up to lions walking around your site or could not sleep because the African buffalo was eating to loudly?

Cheetah kill in Central Serengeti

After 3 days of roaming the Serengeti we then headed down the dusty and extremely bumpy roads (that cause many flat tires) to the Ngorongoro Crater in search of the last of the "big five": the rhino. The Ngorongoro crater is a world wonder. Believed to have formed millions of years ago by a mountain that collapsed, this crater, which is 20 km wide and roughly 300 square km, is spectacular. Animal life is abundant and the vistas are breathtaking. Although we did not spot one of the 24 endangered rhinos that inhabit this park, we were not disappointed by the other brilliant wildlife that reside there. The bird life alone will keep you entertained for hours.

As our 6 days of safari came to a close our guide looked at us and said, "Well, now that you have seen the animals, if you could change into any animal which animal would you be?" Although I have been asked this numerous times and never struggled to answer--lion, of course--this time it took me a second. After seeing the animals in the wild--the sheer strength, might and power of them all--along with the real realities of their lives: global warming, poachers, and decreasing territory, I am definitely thankful to be human and not a hippo bathing in my own poo.

No comments:

Post a Comment