“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” – e e cummings
This is not a topic that concerns animals, but it is one that they so naturally teach – the art of being yourself.
It is a topic that separates us little bipeds from the wild world of our animal brothers and sisters. Sure, who knows really what a woodpecker mum gets up to when hidden inside her nest. But I doubt she is worrying about whether she is being a good enough mother, or if her feathers still have their youthful lustre. She is beyond even the stage of acceptance – she simply does not think about it. Sure, she doesn’t quite have the brain structure for such neuroticism. And we do, which gives us the task of overcoming self-doubt and learning to accept and embrace, all through life.
On the subject of neuroticism, let’s take my morning face, for instance. There is nothing like a 5 am game drive, I discovered on our safari at Mara Plains Camp in Kenya, while trying to pose naturally for a camera, to make you doubt yourself.
You might have had the coffee and the hot water and lemon and the muffin, but your face does not lie when it still desires an hour extra under the sheets. When the cold air blows and mascara rolls silently down the side of your face, you are presented with that great challenge – man versus nature, self versus other.
Bundled in khaki scarves and windbreakers with extra buoyant morning hair, do you ignore the reflection in the mirror and focus on the great male lion shaking his silky mane in the golden light of dawn?
Yes, you do, and you think nothing of it.
There is no time for ego on a safari. Only awe. Getting back to nature in any way strips you of the me-me-me thoughts, because suddenly you find yourself in a phantasmagoria of scents and sounds and sights. Attention shifts – the elephants call on you to be present for them. One look down and you could miss the grand show of flapping ears or a little one’s first steps.
Embraced in the right way, a safari is a truth-seeking journey. A simplifying and a refocusing of life. It is learning to concentrate less on yourself and more on the exciting world around you, which, in turn, helps you to be more yourself.
It’s that look after a long day out in the savannah and bush, a day spent riding horses in big cat country and bumping along in 4X4s over river beds and along dusty dirt paths. It’s the freckles popping on your sun-kissed nose and the mud on your boots. It’s the tired red eyes from hours of looking through a camera, darting from one eagle to another. It’s the peace that comes with it all – having let go, having jumped in, wholeheartedly – and it’s the smile that shows not a care in the world.
That look is the look of someone on safari, of someone who has stepped into themselves.
The air is vacant, frozen. Only three things exist: the lion, the safari vehicle and me. This is the feeling of time standing still. And fear. My fear. Obviously. Today, this lion is king. His gaze is locked on me. It doesn’t waiver until a younger cub breaks his focus, brings us back to the world.
Lets Kamogelo, my ranger at Zarafa Camp, comes back into view. The cub has lost his way, he explains, has wandered too far from his mother and his pride. Here in the wilderness of the Selinda Reserve in Botswana, the sun is falling fast on our evening game drive, casting shadows across the cub and elder. Without his pride’s protection, Lets says, the cub may not survive the night.
In the last light of day, the little lion strides up a sandy hill and exhales a long moan into the cool dusk air, calling out to his family. It is heartbreaking. The older male and his partner, lying some distance away, have no interest in the wanderer. He is not one of them. Not in terms of blood. They will not protect him from the evils of the wild.
It is in this moment that my thoughts drift to Munich, my Manx, and the brilliance of her breed. Not sunsets, G&Ts and warm towels. But my Manx, Munich, at home in her handmade felt bubble bed. The domestic cat, considered today to be the most popular pet in the world, has cleverly managed to bypass all the less desirable qualities of the lives of their wilder counterparts. Cleverly and of their own volition, as it turns out.
An expert on the subject, Dr. Leslie Lyons of the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, says:
“We say cats adapted themselves to us rather than the other way around. As humans became farmers, we started a civilization. And civilization has grain stores and refuse piles, two things that draw rodents. Cats started coming closer to households to eat the rodents, filling the niche that humans developed. Cats were the first to come close to humans. We tolerated them because they ate the rodents, and cats tolerated humans because we provided food.”
But of course, as much as we fawn over them as pets, our Manxes and Tabbies, our Persians and Raggamuffins (yes, that is the name of an actual breed of cat) don’t evoke the same awe in us as The Big Cats. They don’t make time stand still. Not compared to a lone female leopard slinked along a jackalberry branch, mere metres away, her stomach fat with new life and her rosetted tail hanging from the tree like ivy…
Safaris present you with these frozen moments, a glimpse into the wild, at both its dangers and miracles. They let you enter the secret life of the cat, not the cat of the popular Nat Geo documentary, but the other “untrainable lazy bundle of fur”. The Big Cats. And their own world of revealing personalities and talents.
Images Above: by Tamlin Wightman. Images below: as credited
The Best Places To See The Big Cats
Leopards are notoriously elusive creatures but the population in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve rejects this stereotype by inviting game vehicles to witness their daily lives. It is common on game drives in Londolozi to spend hours in the company of these normally shy cats.
Boasting one of the highest population of lions in the world, the Masai Mara in Kenya more than deserves its reputation for being big cat country. It is also one of the last wild frontiers that caters for cheetahs exacting needs, with wide open spaces and tall grass. Leopards also have affinity for this part of the world, with a penchant for the landscape’s rockier terrains. Explore the region from Mara Plains and Ol Donyo.
Madikwe Private Game Reserve is one of the world’s great conservation success stories. The reserve’s reputation as a cheetah sanctuary recently gained muster when two females were relocated to the territory, bringing the population to an impressive seven. Witness the grace of the big cats at Morukuru.
An Evolutionary Masterpiece
Dynamics of the Pride
A Lion’s Share
What is your experience of the big cats? Share your stories with us below.
“Young royalty is protected behind pillars and trunks. Its world is guarded and small, but its future is huge”- Heinrich van den Berg
For me there are no better words than Heinrich van den Berg’s to describe the scene we witnessed recently of a newborn elephant attempting to take its first steps amidst the melee of its herd. We watched the elephants perform the dance of birth where they pirouetted in tight circles around themselves and waltzed around each other to the music of their rumbling.
As is typical of elephants, there was great ceremony to the occasion and the herd were there to support the mother after her 22 month long pregnancy. As they jostled around the baby I kept stressing that it was about to be trampled, but their movements were gentle and controlled, and the baby bounced amongst them on new-found feet. They helped the mother to bury the afterbirth and spent a large amount of time dust bathing themselves and the baby, possibly to rid it of scent and thus prevent predators from smelling this vulnerable new creature. They also touched their trunks to it tenderly, taking turns to greet the new member of the family, all the while rumbling in the deeply comforting way that speaks to elephants and humans alike.
The video below shows how the elephants help to lift the baby to its feet, whilst barricading it from the dangers of the outside world. It is amazing to think that this tiny, defenceless creature will one day be one of Africa’s giants- roaming this beautiful wilderness. It was an incredibly touching scene to witness and I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
Due to the relaxed nature of the elephants we see here on Londolozi, this is not the first time something like this has been seen. A few years ago, one of our rangers managed to get video footage of a female elephant actually giving birth, whilst others have even been privileged enough to watch a birth from the comfort of their room in camp.
We have also seen strange herd make ups that suggests the female could have given birth to twins. This is incredibly rare and only been recorded a few times in the wild. Have you ever seen an elephant birth or known of an elephant that gave birth to twins? We’d love to hear about your thoughts or experiences.