Fox. On the Road – Animal Magnetism

Fox. On the Road is a series of travel related posts I write for Eurocircle.com. Follow it, for more musings on aimless wandering, light bulb moments, and amazing experiences:  http://www.eurocircle.com/forums/profile/72991-sherry-kumar/

It has been ten days since my return from Eurocircle’s African Safari, 2015, and my head is still spinning from all the spectacular sights and sounds. Africa truly is unlike any continent on earth, and is a far cry from how it is portrayed in the media. Not that the media can ever present an entirely accurate portrayal of a culture or it’s people, but when it comes to this continent, we are always bombarded with stories of atrocities, genocides and human suffering. Imagine my surprise, to find its cultures rich in history, customs and rituals, and it’s people, the most welcoming, peaceful and laid back. I’ll have to write more about the contrasts between what we see in the media, and the reality of southern Africa later, because this blog post is devoted solely to its abundant and healthy wildlife populations.

If you are an animal or a nature lover, the southern countries of Africa will overwhelm you by sprawling nature reserves, shifting terrain, and changing climates. One minute you’ll find yourself in a scorching desert, the other, steaming in a swampy delta. There are never-ending stretches of pristine highways, where there is no sign of civilization for miles, then lush jungle and forest, where you’ll find the tallest waterfalls in the world. The changeable topography, and lush vegetation, make southern Africa a haven for wildlife.

I know what you’ve heard about poaching, and the declining populations of endangered species. Unfortunately, it is a reality that only tourism can reverse. However, much is being done to protect it, and I am very impressed with conservation efforts in all the countries we visited. (Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe & South Africa).  Sure, there some disheartening statistics, but I was more taken by the level of care and respect the tourist industry has towards the land and its inhabitants.

This is my second safari, the first being in India in 2014. In both countries drastic measures have been taken to protect. But I always thought that Africa, being the poorer region, and faced with more political turmoil, would be less protective. Imagine my surprise to see how well the national parks are guarded. In terms of cleanliness and conservation, they are absolutely spotless.  The game drivers are fanatical about not disturbing animals, ensuring they have plenty of space and peace to just be. I kept searching for signs of other tourists at Moremi Game Reserve and the Okavango Delta, but I couldn’t find a single gum wrapper on the grounds.

So, it’s no wonder that animals are practically everywhere you turn. As a matter of fact, we encountered more wild animals outside the reserves, than in. Even though each of our hotels was protected by electric fencing, practically every night group members encountered hyenas, hippos, baboons on the grounds of the hotel. On any given highway, herds of elephant and giraffe are crossing the road, and an occasional ostrich family with its chicks is strolling in the fast lane.

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The Okavango delta is where all things wild come for a drink, and our boat frequently had to speed away from charging hippos, being careful not to bump a crocodile. This is great spot for exotic bird watching. But the one thing that you will love the most, is the beautiful sunsets, which should only be compared to the sunsets in Chobe National Park. They are just as dazzling, but the colors are different.

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If you are an avid photographer, then Chobe is the place for you. A wider river, cuts through the border between Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, and all the wildlife congregates here at sunset for a drink. We viewed everything from a speed boat, and were only inches away from crocodiles, elephants, hippos, buffalo and baboons.

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In many of the reserves, the animals are not afraid of humans. I don’t recommend you approach a carnivore, but all the herbivores were quite comfortable with us. At one point we came out of the game viewing vehicle for a lunch break and a stretch, so I took the opportunity to snap a few shots at the passing herd of elephants. They were completely unfazed by my camera and me standing less than 10 feet away. And just out of curiosity, this young giraffe came so close to pose, that I could have petted it.

But my favorite part of the safari, were the big cats. This is after all, the reason I organize these trips. Since my first interaction with tigers (not drugged) in southeast Asia, I have been looking for any opportunity for another close encounter. The tigers of Ranthanbore, India were majestic, but we couldn’t touch them. So, I have been looking for a place where we could have a more intimate opportunity. Before you bombard me with criticism or hate mail, know that not all places that allow for interaction with big cats involve canned hunting, drugs, or abuse. There are many reputable rescue organizations that save cats from captivity, circuses, or injury. Many are always looking for volunteers, and if interested, please do your research carefully.

The grand finale our our close encounters with wild animals was in Zambia, where we met a small family of lions who were being trained to hunt, and will be released into the wild soon. These are only 18 months old, and because they are sharpening their hunting skills, they are not fed more than twice a week. They do, in fact have their hunting instincts, because as we played and petted them, a herd of elephants were crossing the path.  Having spotted a baby among the elephants, the two females, instinctively leaped behind the bushes, and had to be restrained by the keepers to prevent an attack.

Some of the more nervous group members posed for a picture, then retreated. But a few of us found the lions utterly irresistible. Just like a house cat, they love to be scratched under the chin, and if you do a good job, don’t be surprised if they turn belly up. The male lion was starving for a little human affection, and I wish our time with them was not limited. As always, I inquired about volunteering, and there are plenty of opportunities, not just here but in all regions we visited. I am seriously considering volunteering with the lions, or rescuing cheetahs near Cape Town next year.

In the mean time, check out my travel albums (the Zambia album is where you’ll find the big cats).  https://www.flickr.com/photos/84030770@N02/albums 

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And, if you would like to travel with Eurocircle in the future, keep your eyes on our travel page, our next trip will be announced there shortly.

xoxo

S

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