I grew up hopelessly glued to the television every time Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom was on. Marlin Perkins lured me in every time, and carted me away to a wild and distant land filled with fascinating accounts of exotic animals. Although not by any means glamorous, the lifestyle to capture these moments was extremely exciting and it was because of Perkins that I originally declared I wanted to become a zoologist. I also (like many others) developed a romanticized view of the African savanna and vowed to at least visit it ‘one day’. Of course Wild Kingdom wasn’t the only influence. Several Hollywood movies added to my idealization of the legendary safari as well.
So I admit that I probably went on my week long safari of Lake Manyara, the Serengeti, and Ngorongoro Crater with slightly higher expectations than what I got.
I was prepared for driving long distances – all day – and possibly not seeing any wildlife. I was prepared for getting pretty dusty and hot. I was prepared for more camping.
What I wasn’t prepared for was severe motion sickness from being bumped and hurled all over the truck at high speed. I wasn’t prepared for the amount of dust that caused my eyes to be constantly red and sore, my sinuses permanently congested and my becoming bronchial and living on Ricola throat lozenges.
Also, when we did encounter the animals, most of the time they weren’t doing anything. Just hanging in the trees, lying in the shade, standing by a tree, and many, many, many times, just stopped and staring back at us. I was thinking “How is this any different than the zoo?” and kept quietly urging them to do something… anything. In fact, I had a closer experience at the safari park in England when a giraffe put its head through the sun roof and slobbered all over me in an effort to get some food.
I also couldn’t help feeling like there were too many people around, too many safari trucks, and we humans were interfering again. For instance, a couple of lionesses took down a wildebeest moments before we arrived. Others suggested it was because the wildebeest couldn’t see them because all of the safari trucks were in the way. I know at some point one of them will get caught, but maybe it didn’t have to be that one, at that time. There was also a lioness, so tired and hot, that plopped herself in the shade of all the trucks. That just indicates to me that the animals out here are very used to our presence, and again, I’m not so sure that’s a good thing.
I am actually quite glad I did not see that wildebeest taken down, although I did see the lionesses feasting on it afterwards. Same thing with a trio of cheetah’s and their impala dinner. I just couldn’t be in awe of watching them rip apart and eat their kill. I didn’t think that this should be a “fun” thing to watch and thought it was too morbidly voyueristic.
As for the hippos, I used to think they were adorable but they are the worst smelling foul and filthy creatures I have ever encountered (think multiple ginormous leaking methane tanks).
To help iterate my point, here is a quick video to give you a better idea of the moaning, belching, squelching, gassing, filth flicking, stench infused packed pit this poor lot was soaking in:
Don’t get me wrong though. There were many fun things about being on safari. I loved camping out in the bush. Our first night, as we ambled to our tents, we could see the glowing eyes of hyenas along the perimeter. They could smell the remnants of our dinner and were waiting until the coast was clear to try to scrounge some scraps. Around midnight I awoke to a strange whooping sound right outside my tent! It was one of the hyenas as they made their way through camp and not long after was the grunting of a warthog following behind. No one dared leave their tent but it was exciting to have them so close. Then in the morning, as the sun began to rise across the horizon, the impala were there to greet us. So peaceful compared to the creatures of the night.
At another camp, a herd of zebra were waiting for us and fortunately they were not aggressive because we had to wade through them to get to the washrooms. But just in case, some staff members carried rifles and watched the perimeter to ensure our safety.
I can also say I bagged the Big 5 (well nearly anyway… did see the rustling gray blob of a distant rhino in the bush but couldn’t get a shot of it with the camera).
And saw many other notable animals along the way…
I realize that I am being a bit whiny. Not everyone who dreams gets to actually go on a safari. And I realize that I am probably not going to be too popular for writing a less than stellar review of a safari. But to me, the whole experience still seemed too commercial and just… not natural. And isn’t that the whole point of getting to view these animals in their habitat?
So for those who have been on safari, I’m curious… ultimate experience or overrated?