Saw the African Big Five!

What does one do after the exhilarating but exhausting experience of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro? 3 days of Safari of course! What an exciting opportunity to explore the amazing animals of Africa. Standing up in the safari vehicles with the wind in your hair (and the dust in your teeth!) binoculars at hand waiting to see what animal is around the next corner. Our drivers, Edson and Ibrahim, were amazing, keeping an eye on the bumpy road while keeping an eye out for animals hiding in trees and tall grass.

This was my second time on safari in Africa (the first followed a medical mission trip in Kenya in 2009). Growing up in Asheboro, home of the N.C. Zoo where we developed one of the earlier natural boundary habitats, the first animals were from Africa. I’ve always loved these animals. But to see them in their natural environment is powerful. As I’ve said before, even the birds of Africa have the most magnificent feather colors. Our birds look shabby compared to the Lilac Breasted Roller or the King Fisher or my favorite- the Superb Starling.

We visited three different National Parks and by end of day 2 here were our highlights:

-Monkeys, monkeys everywhere! Baboons jumping on our hood, blue monkeys peering into our top, and black faced monkeys watching from a distance.

-One of my favorites are the giraffes. So tall and gangly but with the sweetest eyes and long eye lashes. I love their faces.

-Packs of zebras where multiple times they were right beside our car eating grass or trying to figure out how to cross the road. Each zebra’s stripes are different so everyone one of them are beautiful, unique creations by God. As hard as I tried I never could get one to bark (our safari drivers work for Barking Zebra Tours!)

-The elephants were wonderful to watch. We saw several babies hanging close to their mamas. So big and powerful yet they spend 18 hours a day eating up to 300kg grass a day! We never saw one not eating!

-Wildebeests or Gnus were in abundance. This was a first for me as they had migrated last time I was here. Some say these animals were designed by committee because they are so unusual looking and have characteristics from the buffalos, zebra, lion, and gazelles! I kind of liked their mushed and fuzzy faces and weird shapes bodies.

Wildebeast and zebras hanging together at the water hole

-The lions were spectacular- one day we saw 26 lions scattered throughout the reserve!

So this lioness walked right beside our car- I switched to video which I will share later. Amazing!

-Of course we saw a variety of the gazelles and impala. We saw lots of ugly little Pumbaas (warthogs)! We saw Cape Buffalo and hippos and jackals and mongoose and hyenas.

-We saw one lone rhino from a distance

It was the last day when we were one short of the Big 5. These are the hardest animals for a human to hunt on foot. They are the Cape Buffalo, Rhino, Elephant, Lion and the Leopard. We were on a furious search for a leopard or even a cheetah that had alluded us so far. I’d been looking up in trees far from the truck for 3 days! Our drivers got word over their cb that there was a leopard sighting and were zooming across the reserve when our first vehicle in front of mine came to an unexpected grinding halt. Sure enough as we came up behind them to our immediate left was a male leopard sitting up in a tree right next to the road. It was early morning and he was scoping out the swamp area for breakfast- some lone animal coming to the swamp for a morning drink. But it was skittish and we had spooked it. It was showing its teeth and hissing like an upset house cat! For a second I thought it was going to leap from the limb into our vehicle! Instead it quickly climbed down the tree, gave us one last hiss and wondered over towards the swamp himself. All we could see was his tail sticking up like a periscope moving through the tall grass. It was a lucky, lucky site to catch a leopard on the move! Not only that, 20 minutes later we found another leopard lounging in a tree further from the road. We needed binoculars to view her bathing and resting on a tree limb. Wow, our lucky day!!!

We also sadly saw a zebra that had been taken down by some lions and the vultures were cleaning up the carcass. By the time we drove back by that same spot only 16 hours later there was nothing but a rib cage and bones remaining! Efficient food economy on the Tarangire reserve!

Always grateful to see the variety and interconnectedness of God’s creation right before my eyes. The beauty and quirkiness of each unique species. The variety of colors and patterns of hides. The different strengths and vulnerabilities the animals exhibit. How often we saw most of the animals cluster together (not including the big cats, of course!) sharing the same turf and grazing from the same plants. Giraffes eat up high. Wildebeests eat the medium grass and the Zebra graze close to the ground. The Impala hang around the edges nibbling on anything. Elephants pass through grabbing anything green their trunks can grab hold of. They’ve figured out to get along in spite of their differences. Sure wish we humans could manage to figure this out as well.

As I head to the airport and prepare to close out this amazing chapter in my life I’m feeling grateful. Grateful to be coming home. Although home is a new place for me, I have thought often of Boone and missed it terribly. And that made me feel more settled than I realized I actually was. I’m grateful for new friends from various parts of the US. I’m feeling grateful for good andkind people all over the world who share this amazing planet we live on. To look at our world only through the “American” lens is a huge mistake. We are not the biggest and the best. We are one among many as I heard voices from around the world climbing Kili and going on Safari. I’m grateful for showers and beds with mattresses. I’m grateful for my dear husband who when I was feeling far from home texted me words of encouragement. I love my sweet Greg. I’m grateful for God’s great big world and the reminder that I’m just one small part of a big, beautiful plan. And finally I’m grateful for the many lessons learned on this adventure. And I for the ones I haven’t even figured out or recognized yet.

I’ll be home soon and I can’t wait!

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

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