Safari is NOT like living next to the zoo after all

 The lion sleeps tonight…and eats today

LIONS. Big tawny strongly-muscled beasts whose babies make delightful characters in children’s books, whose pelts were sought by Teddy Roosevelt, whose deaths by spear were important to young Masai seeking their manhood…and who are usually asleep when you visit the zoo. Therefore you must visit them at home!

The great ocher female lion pulls the gutted wildebeest several paces, stops and pants because the big unwieldy carcass weighs as much as her. She crunches her deadly teeth back into the carcass and pulls on for the next few yards, repeating over and over. Meanwhile, under the solitary green and bushy tree toward which she appears to be heading, three cheetahs lie in spotted camouflage, their long slick bodies stretching comfortably, although one has raised her head, peering lazily at the approaching intruder. Lady lion pauses, pulls, pauses, pulls, a few yards at a time and, yes, her trajectory is definitely toward that one spot of shade.   The cheetahs all raise their heads, ears pricked, one sits, two just lie there. Then they all sit up. And stare.

Where to eat?

Looks like a cool quiet place.

Lunch will definitely be hearty and flavorful.

The lion pays no mind. Drag, stop, drag, stop…this is one heavy wildebeest.  Now all three cheetahs are on their feet and one moves a short ways out of the shade. As the queen of the plain draws ever nearer, the cheetahs treasured bit of shade is abandoned. The move is not made hurriedly nor do they seem particularly upset by this unfortunate (if you’re the cheetah) turn of events, but the ranking in the feline power structure out here on the Masai Mara is clear.

Okay…..we’re out of here.

After her long haul, the queen of the cats lays down in the shade, her bounty just at her front paws, and rests, assured that lunch will be plentiful. The cheetahs move toward more distant trees, frequently glancing back in what appears to be profound annoyance but with neither great fear nor cowardice—it is just the way it is out here on this African hillside.

Relax. Savor.

Can’t find that scenario at the zoo!

What was surely a dramatic kill preceding that tree-based power play and an earlier mating ritual attest to why Nature and Animal Planet, etc. shows about big cats are oft-repeated and much loved. Lions are glorious beasts but the bright kingly orange of the big ruffed male and slightly smaller and less flashy tone of his mate misrepresent the importance of the roles they play. It is the female who actually does most of the hunting while the big beautiful boys laze about. And now we watch while the king stalks and advances and the queen gives in for a moment and then slaps him away. Just like TV. Cameras click.

Never say Never!

For many years, I have consistently listed four things of no interest to me: Marriage, home ownership, cruises and safaris. After three very special days in Masai Mara National Reserve (Kenya’s extension of the Serengeti Plains), I must take the latter back. I am just hoping that I won’t wake up at 90 in the nursing home wanting a husband and a house and begging my children to take me on a raucous singles cruise down the Mexican coast.


Wildlife replaces dance for a few days.

 A Masai Mara Safari

From a meeting in Nairobi, two colleagues and I set out for Masai Mara, driven in a big safari jeep by a remarkably-knowledgeable guide named Joseph, The road winds through the lush rolling hills that so attracted those famous and infamous British settlers onto the scene. Some things never change it seems; Prince William just proposed to his girl Kate on the slopes of Mount Kenya. Laura, who planned this trip, made a wise and socially conscious decision to book at Basecamp Masai Mara, an ecologically-friendly safari base of the first order. It is owned by a Scandinavian, managed by some very wise and socially-aware Kenyans and a delight to both senses and ethics to visit. It is profusely described and praised on-line so no need for further description.

An evening walk with the family.

The King…Long live the King.

Curiouser and curiouser.

We jeeped through the plains and hills and along the rivers twice a day for hours at a time—watching the big cats and prehistoric hippos and curious giraffes, the secretary bird whose office-appropriate ‘outfit’ and lipstick, our guide found worthy of many chuckles, and the assortment of antelopes in all of their graceful golden brown, black and white intricately horned beauty. Everyone has their favorites though…mine the herds of wildebeest and zebras frequently co-mingled—the goofy bearded nursery rhyme-characteristics of the wildebeest nicely complimenting the most-beloved and unbelievable member of the horse family, the fancily and fancifully-stripped zebra. You have the feeling zebras cannot be real, that if you walk up and rub them the stripes will come right off. And finally, wart hogs and hyenas, the underappreciated denizens of these plains. Not a lot of beauty about which to rhapsodize but they do much to lend that fantastical quality to Africa’s animal kingdom.

The pretty one.

Two references from Art History 101 and all those years of Sunday school (finally I found a use for them) come to me as we bump about the trails or pause for long silent observation. First Edward Hicks painting “Peaceable Kingdom” with the ox and the lion and the goat and the leopard sitting ‘peaceably’ together and then the biblical: The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. (Isaiah 11:6/King James Version). Maybe it’s not quite like that, surely the about-to-be-savored wildebeest probably didn’t feel like the kill was a peaceable moment and the ‘lying down’ part was about being eaten—still my sense of awe in seeing all of those near-mythical beasts living a balanced and semi-friendly co-existence was palpable.  


They do the great trek across Masai Mara and the Serengeti together.


Since it would be impossible to make a description of any one animal or sight that was fresh and original, here are a few of my personal musings as I awoke to a myriad of bird and monkey voices in the morning or sipped wine in the tree-thatched dining room as sun set….

Home for three remarkable days.

  • I have been thinking about adopting a cat…and I’ve decided. Yes, I will get a cat. They are so slinky and graceful and independent and touchable. My desire to touch the ones I saw on safari pretty much confirmed my decision. “The Cat is one animal nature pretty much got right the first time… Beautifully engineered from the start, cats have merely honed their structure over the past 34 million years.” – National Geographic.  OR.  “It is striking how similar the thirty-eight cat species are: Enlarge a domestic housecat and you have a leopard, elongate it for a speed to yield a cheetah, add a mane and roar to build a lion and so on”  ( I can almost feel my miniature leopard snuggled against me as I drift off to sleep.


  • Next time I walk along the Rio Grande and hear the animals in the zoo coming awake I will be sad. Albuquerque has a good and always improving zoo. However, it is a zoo. Not the plains of home. The voices I hear are contained, constrained, confined. I will think of them waking up on the Masai Mara, the Serengeti, in Kruger Park and silently apologize.
  • I have a renewed appreciation for my childhood in northern Minnesota and the pleasure on visits home when a black bear crosses the road in front of me, a rare lynx or moose sighting occurs, the coyotes and wolves sing all night, deer and skunks and porcupines abound, sometimes as road kill, but usually alive and well. While none of these Minnesota creatures rivals the hippo or giraffe for sheer exoticism—although the porcupine does come close—they are as valuable to our existence and, Sarah Palin and her gunship to the contrary, we need to cherish them.

Ah yeah. Those glorious traditions.

Go on safari. Shoot with your Sony Cyber-shot. Marvel at how you’re in the container and they are not. Spend sunset with a group of young Masai who serenade, do the Masai leap and tell a few tales around the campfire—since cattle-herding and a blood and milk diet is a fading lifestyle. But don’t romanticize the loss of these distinct cultures around the world without remembering traditional cultures were almost NEVER good for women. Do romanticize wild animals in their natural habitats while there are some left.

And always vote DEMOCRAT.

Democrats plant trees and are interested in the world…usually.

2 Comments on “Safari is NOT like living next to the zoo after all

  1. Nice pictures and even nicer commentary. Yes, democrats plant trees and republicans pull them up and plant money trees and they sure know how to harvest them. Perhaps the people of Kenya will leave some of their country wild. Tom

  2. Loved this Marge. Biggest smile on my face all the while I’m reading. You ARE something else, ahhhh yes, my hero… I can just see you bouncing around inside the jeep laughing and taking photos…. Keep up the writting, can’t wait to read more. Love ya….

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