Roads? Where we’re going we won’t need roads.

As a child who spent lots of time at both the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Wild Animal Park I wasn’t sure exactly what my reaction would be going on safari. Sure I knew it would be amazing to see the animals up close, but I mean I had seen them before. What I didn’t realize after our 4 days in the Masai Mara game reserve was that seeing the animals up close, while amazing and cool, was only one of the mind-blowing parts of our stay there.  It definitely exceeded all of my expectations and I highly recommend it for anyone coming this way in the world.

Rather than drone on and on about what we saw there (I’ll leave that for Ray and his photos) I want to share the parts of this adventure that were so unexpected and awesome. First was the Mara park itself. I hadn’t really thought about the topography of the place we were visiting, but the Masai Mara game reserve is 1510 sq km of unbridled open wilderness.  While most of it is classic African savannah, the word “mara” means patches in the language spoken by the Maasai who live there. And thus the landscape of this vast savannah is dotted by small patches of what we would call bush and trees, putting the mara in Masai Mara.  The land is so flat that you can see for miles in any direction, its like the original big sky country. And the impossibly blue sky is dotted, during the day, with innumerable small clouds that look like little steamed buns in the sky (I’m not kidding). We would do these game drives in the evening right until the sun set and then we’d get to see the reds and oranges of the sunset fading into blush against a sky the color of a bruise. Seriously, nothing else like it.  When it would rain anywhere we could see it and watch it move around the park until sometimes it was on top of our heads! Driving through the land as the sun rose and set during our safari was a deeply beautiful and meditative experience.

The next aspect of the trip that I didn’t realize would be so neat was watching the animal interact with each other. Obviously it was really crazy to have lions next to our jeep and watch elephants fight a few meters away. But what really blew my mind was watching how the animals interacted with each other, which you couldn’t appreciate in any zoo or wild animal park. At one point while we were searching for the ever elusive lion our guide, Simon, and Ray noted that all the animals were pointed in the same direction far off into the distance. I looked and indeed all the gazelles, wildebeest,  and zebras were standing at attention looking off into the distance, and it wasn’t at us in our Land Rover. Our guide snapped up the long-range binoculars and before I knew it we were bouncing and off roading towards this common gaze. And there it was. A female lion walking lazily across the bush, the focal point of the collective animal gaze.  It wasn’t until she finally disappeared back into the shrubs that the gazelles began to graze again and the other animals followed suit.

The last aspect I’ll write about is the hardest to quantify. It started with a horrible sight. We were driving in the park at midday and saw a pack of hyenas surrounding a large adult giraffe. We drove closer and could see the body of a small juvenile giraffe which had been killed on the ground between them. The hyenas were literally ripping at the body of the dead giraffe and consuming it. At first it looked like the adult giraffes were just watching. And then something slightly incredible happened. The adult giraffe, I can only assume it was the mother, charged at the 15-20 hyenas that were on the carcass and they scattered. She held her body over the dead giraffe and repeatedly lowered her head towards it, protecting it, defending it.  Eventually she would walk away but every time the hyenas came back to finish their meal she would charge them again, and again, and again. We watched this go on for half an hour before she eventually gave up and walked away always looking back at the body on the ground.  All I could think was do giraffes feel sadness? I know it’s an anthropomorphism, but looking at this scene, watching it, it was the only conclusion I could come to.  And I was awestruck by the realization that perhaps we as humans are not so different from these animals as we think. I felt connected to the emotion that giraffe was displaying, I recognized it, I had felt it. And that was truly amazing.

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Published in: on April 29, 2011 at 12:51 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Rachel, it’s not nice to make your mother cry. Beautiful journal entry. I could really see the scene by your description. xo

  2. Love the scene you paint Rays! I can’t wait to reach there someday and I glad you two are taking it all in.

  3. I am not sure whether you would describe action of large giraff as Sadness but I think we all have seen animals fight to protect their young newly born offspring. I know of cases where horses have bit someone getting too close toa new foal and dogs and cats along with some birds are known to fight off those that the parent senses are harming their young. When it comes to feeding off their young call it sadness or instinct it is something but I am really not sure if you could call it sadness. Could be. Description well said. Love, Papa

  4. […] beaches, Maasai Mara park, Lions, baby lions (and more baby lions), elephants and baby elephants, Nairobi, Kisumu’s […]


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