Africa and the Circle of Life
We’re driving with a spotter and guide sporting a hefty rifle at the front of our patrol. There, ahead of us, stand seven elephants bathing themselves at a watering hole. The click of my camera fills the silence between their splashes of water. Staring in the faces of these monstrous animals, I can hardly fathom their level of intelligence and awareness. We clearly attracted the attention of one of the protective mothers as she slowly moves toward us, ears flapping, feet stamping, a ‘mock’ charge. More charge, less mock this time. Our driver turns on the engine and begins to floor it backwards. This is not a joke. This elephant is wild. This elephant is angry. Out here we are nothing but observers, exposed to the elements of the natural world. My heart pounds with the excitement of the moment watching this elephant chase after us like a mother scorned as her small offspring runs through her legs unaware of the disturbance. In order that we no longer trouble these normally gentle giants, we drive off into another region of the park.
Safe, until we round a corner upon a sleeping male lion. He lies undisturbed 15 feet from our vehicle in his shady resting place under a particularly leafy bush. His huge paws bat off flies while his ears remain alert to any sudden movements. We whisper about this killer, though he seems so innocent resting in front of us that we could almost walk out and pat his golden mane. We photograph him in his serenity. Nature is truly beautiful in the heat of the day when even the most dangerous animals, “the Big Five” are rendered harmless by the unforgiving sun. Later we run into the great rhinos of the park, shyer than small children. One hides himself unsuccessfully behind a large bush while the other stands head-on. Though they look like pudgy Pillsbury doughboys with horns, their sheer bulk and armored appearance warn of their ability to cause damage to a metal vehicle.
This kind of natural tourism, where the animals roam free, is so much more humane and sustainable than cramming these behemoth creatures into small cages separated from their natural environments. Standing next to a male lion, with nothing between him and your fragile body, provides perhaps the most realistic experience of raw nature. All senses are awakened when you not only want the best picture, but you also want to ensure your personal safety. Take time to appreciate the natural beauty of this world and to experience it firsthand with no sugar coating. Put yourself out there. Watch a lion sleep. Watch a baby rhino bask himself in the glory of fresh water. Watch a leopard bring down a helpless impala. This is the true circle of life. We are all helpless impalas.