My African Safari—They Were There for Me—Will They Be There for My Children?
“JAMBO!” Startled, we rubbed the sleep from our eyes and called back, “Jambo!” It is our wake-up call, Swahili for “What’s new?” After months of preparation and a few thousand miles of travel, we were in a tent in a Kenyan wildlife preserve—on safari in Africa!a
The adventure really started the day before. On our arrival our guide took us on a game run. “Gazelle!” one of us shouted as we bounced along in our two rough-terrain vehicles. Hands hurriedly fumbled for cameras, field guidebooks, and binoculars.
Our guide, a sprightly little Englishman, chuckled at our excitement. “Grant’s gazelle, actually. Wonderful little fellows, aren’t they?”
Petite, delicately painted, yet obviously durable and designed for speed, these lovely little creatures and the smaller Thomson’s gazelle were to be seen everywhere we went. On this preliminary jaunt we also saw and photographed the big eland, the oryx, and the gerenuk, and we even spotted the rare greater kudu and the mountain reedbuck.
Rounding a bend, we startled a herd of impalas. From a standstill they leaped straight up six or eight feet, as if launched by hidden springs.b “As you can imagine, this jumping confuses predators no end,” said our guide. Then the impalas ran off, covering 30 feet in one bound.
We saw zebras, looking very striking in their dramatic black and white stripes, and were reminded of the account in the Bible book of Job that indicates that zebras can’t be tamed. (Job 39:5) I asked the guide about it. “Some Americans made a movie here a while back,” he said. “They needed a tame zebra for an actress to ride but couldn’t find one because there aren’t any. They had to paint stripes on a horse.”
As we returned to camp on that first day, we spotted an ostrich. When she saw us she ran off, her powerful legs propelling her over the crest of a hill. The ostrich can run at speeds of 40 miles per hour, 25 feet in a stride. Her speed made me think of another Bible text in Job: “She laughs at the horse and at its rider.” (Job 39:18) She could laugh at our trucks too, I thought, as we bounced along.
But it was on this morning when we awakened to the cry of “Jambo!” that we felt our safari really got under way. Riding out on horseback across a broad meadowland dotted with acacia trees, we admired Mount Kenya off in the distance. Suddenly our guide motioned us into silence and pointed. There, rising above the treetops, was a group of heads—giraffes munching on acacia leaves!
The world’s tallest animals, the giraffes struck us as gentle, easygoing, even defenseless creatures. Not so; their long necks are useful not only to let them feed on treetops but also to give them a vantage point from which they can focus their big, far-seeing eyes on their young, their herd, or approaching danger. They seemed to us to move in graceful slow motion, but a giraffe can run 35 miles an hour and deliver a kick to a lion that can break its ribs. He can also wield his head like a sledgehammer. A zoo giraffe once landed such a blow on a 1,000-pound eland and sent it flying with a broken shoulder!c
We rode right in among them. Had we been on foot, they would have scattered, but on horses we were viewed as just another herd of grazing animals. Some gazelles and elands were nearby, also zebras very different from the ones we had seen yesterday—taller, narrower stripes, and wonderful, big round ears.
“Grévy’s zebra,” our guide told us. “This variety is steadily decreasing in numbers, largely due to the beauty of their hides. Decorators pay a premium for them.” How sad that man is destroying so many of these creatures and their habitats! But there was more sad news to come.
Riding a truck, we visited a rhino sanctuary, a 5,000 acre enclosure surrounded by a 10-foot-tall electrified fence and patrolled by armed wardens.d It is the home of 13 black rhino and one white. Idling cautiously next to one of these formidable creatures, our trucks seemed suddenly frail and puny.
“The rhino has very poor eyesight,” the guide said. “If the oxpeckers who live on its back squawk and fly off in alarm, the rhino cannot see what disturbed them and charges right up to whatever it is, to smell it. He lives in a world of odors. Now the rhino is being hunted to extinction.”
As the sun set, we rode back to our camp in silence. That evening, as we sat around the campfire and talked of the fate of the rhino, we were startled to hear a throaty, rhythmic roar. It was answered by others.
“Lions,” said our guide, calmly poking the fire. “They, ah, seem pretty close, don’t they?” I asked nervously. “Not at all. Miles away. The lion’s roar can carry five miles or more.” Reassured, we went to bed, hoping to see some of these great cats in the Masai Mara game reserve, our next stop. We were not to be disappointed.
The Big Cats of the Mara
As we drove across the open grasslands of this northern extension of the great Serengeti Plain, we thrilled to the driver’s cry of “Simba!” We pulled up cautiously to see not just one lion but a whole pride—some 40 in all. A number of lionesses sprawled in bunches. More with cubs came out from the brush. Several crowded around a small rain pool to drink. Cubs tussled and chased one another about.
We longed to get out and play with them but restrained ourselves as we looked at the muscles under the lionesses’ skin and noted two big males with luxuriant manes stretched out in sphinx poses—great golden cats blinking their yellow eyes contentedly in the sun’s last rays. The time for frolicking with lion cubs is yet ahead.—Isaiah 11:6-9.
“Lions rest about 20 hours out of 24,” our guide said. “Even more for the males. The females do virtually all the cub-rearing and 90 percent of the hunting, yet the males always eat first.” The females in our group seemed to find these facts amusingly significant! But there would be little cub-rearing and peaceful feeding with no protective males in the pride. If they are shot as pests by herdsmen or as trophies for hunters, the pride often breaks up, and cubs are abandoned.
While the lion is holding its own right now against the threat of extinction, the cheetah is not faring as well. The next morning we happened across two of these elegant and graceful creatures. It was a mother teaching her son how to hunt. The two of them ambled toward a herd of Thomson’s gazelles, but as the mother slowed to a cautious stalk, her brash son took right off after the Tommies. He accelerated in seconds to his famed 70-mile-an-hour sprint, becoming a golden-spotted blur. In vain! Cheetahs can sprint only in brief bursts, and so the Tommies got away, scattering.
He tried and failed again. At last frustrated and panting, he let his mother show him how it is done. She stalked the gazelle until quite close and then put her sprint to effective use. She shared the small catch with her son.
“Look!” the guide exclaimed, pointing. A hyena had materialized as if out of nowhere. He ran at the cheetahs, scared them away from their hard-won gazelle, and ran off with it.
“Ah, that villain!” our guide sputtered. He was all for chasing the hyena down to retrieve the cheetah’s kill, but the thief was gone. Hyenas are very unpopular with humans. Yet the hyena has never threatened any species with extinction. If only humans could say the same!
Besides the great cats, we saw a wide variety of family life in the Mara reserve. An ostrich family strode by, the seven-foot-tall parents herding a gaggle of scruffy-looking youngsters between them. Warthog families abounded, too, so ugly they’re comical. Admirably quick and clever, they trot along with their shovel-shaped, tusked heads held high. Their thin tails point straight up, like car antennae.
Our Masai driver held up a forefinger and laughed, “That is Mr. Warthog’s way of saying, ‘I’m number one.’”
Monkey families, also, were a source of constant delight. Wiry black-faced vervets leaped and chattered in the trees while their babies learned to climb by playing rambunctiously below. Colobus monkeys, performing aerial acrobatics over our heads in their somber black and white coats, looked like priests gone mad. Baboon families were everywhere, too, the babies often riding their mothers like little jockeys. Baboons are raucous and intensely curious. In Tanzania, my wife and I even had to chase one out of our hotel room!
In one of the Mara’s forests, we spotted elephants, their huge gray shapes moving soundlessly between the trees. It was a herd of eight cows, with a tiny three-month-old calf belonging to the matriarch. The herd would shield this little fellow from our view as he moved unafraid among their pillarlike legs, finding mother and nursing occasionally. The herd, I learned, will match its pace to the calf’s and stand together to protect it. In fact, the matriarch nearly charged our driver—he quickly scurried back inside the truck!
Bull elephants are often loners. In the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, we saw one old male with long, gleaming white tusks. He can use them to dig holes for salt and minerals or even to dig water holes that other animals will share in the dry season. How ironic that these beautiful tools, clearly designed to help the elephant survive, have so fired human greed that they may cause his downfall!
Second only to the elephant in size is the massive hippopotamus. (Some say the white rhinoceros is the second largest land mammal.) We stopped near a small river to see a whole herd of them basking, snorting and yawning the day away.
“The hippo,” our guide told us, “lounges about in the water all day to avoid sunburn, then comes out to graze at night. The oil on his skin protects him from too much sun and water. Surprisingly,” he continued, “the hippo kills more humans than any other African animal. They’re not carnivores, but swim or paddle too close—and one bite ends the story!”
Looking at them, we could see why the book of Job says that even a flooding river bursting against the mouth of this behemoth will not panic him. His head alone may weigh up to a ton!—Job 40:23.
The Serengeti Plains
We journeyed south to Tanzania, stopping in the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater, a 12-mile-wide bowl teeming with wildlife. One of its shallow, alkaline lakes seemed from a distance to have a pink cloud on its surface. It was covered with lesser flamingos, the smaller and pinker variety. They murmured and honked as they strutted elegantly in throngs, their legs looking like a thicket of bright red straws bending and unbending.
The Serengeti plains northwest of the crater are great flat seas of grass dotted with islands called kopjes. Huge, sunbaked groups of boulders, kopjes swarm with small furry rock hyraxes and colorful lizards. In the nearby brush we spotted the dik-dik, a ten-pound, one-foot-tall antelope whose only defense is to know how to hide.
We rode into a herd of wildebeest that stretched to the horizon in every direction. They were massing together for their migration, mooing and cavorting clownishly. I smiled at their overwhelming numbers and noise, and thought, ‘Here at last is an animal that is not being wiped out by mankind!’
Our guide was thrilled. “There will be two million of them this year, I don’t doubt. Right now they’re heading for the nearest rainstorm—they can sense one from 30 miles away!”
Late one afternoon on the plains, we were doing some birdwatching, excited that we had seen nearly 200 varieties so far, all of them beautiful.
“It can’t be!” my sister gasped, pointing. I turned to look, expecting quite a bird, and found instead a leopard, stretched out regally in the limbs of an acacia tree not 20 yards away.e He returned our stares calmly and yawned, looking completely at home. Lions also can climb trees, but at over twice the leopard’s weight, they do it only rarely, to escape heat and flies. The lions we saw in a tree looked so clumsy and uncomfortable up there that we all laughed. But the leopard eats, sleeps, virtually lives in trees.
“Terrific, isn’t he?” our guide enthused. Sad to say, he went on, “most tourists go home without seeing a leopard these days. They are heavily poached for their beautiful coats.” All our cameras clicked and buzzed as the sun sank on the plains. I wonder if that leopard is alive today, just a few months later.
Will They Be There for Our Children?
As our plane took off toward home, I looked down at the Serengeti and felt sad. It was sad, for one thing, to leave this beautiful place. It had won me over completely. But several of the safari’s recurring themes, too, had been sad ones.
For instance, the speed of the cheetah, the tusks of the elephant, the neck of the giraffe, and qualities of every creature we saw, all point to a Designer who combines beauty and usefulness, form and function, in all his work. Human designers are showered with praise when their work even approaches that kind of balance. Yet the Designer of these immeasurably greater works is rarely even recognized as a designer at all. Rather, the credit is given to a blind force of billions of accidents, called evolution. Sad.
Worse still, the works themselves are being steadily, wantonly destroyed. Despite the valiant efforts of those who labor to preserve it, terrible questions persist about Africa’s wildlife. Can these creatures survive continued poaching and the pressures of a steadily shrinking habitat? Will they be there for our children, our grandchildren?
Troubling questions, indeed. And yet, to thinking persons, such questions can’t help but lead to another even more important one: Will the intelligent Designer of the earth and all its creatures stand by and watch it all be ruined? No; he promises “to bring to ruin those ruining the earth.” Better still, he promises a time soon after when mankind will be at peace with the animals.—Revelation 11:18; Isaiah 11:1-9.
Yes, the Creator provides happy, reliable answers to our most disturbing questions. Thinking about his promises dispels my sadness over the plight of Africa’s wild animals. Not only are they there now; they will remain there in the future.—Contributed.
a 1 mi = 1.6 km.
b 1 ft = 0.3 m.
c 1 lb = 0.5 kg.
d 1 a. = 0.4 ha.
e 1 yd = 0.9 m.