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Published: February 17th 2020
I look out over this part of the expanse of the green Serengeti and see acacia trees and, because of all the rain this year, high grassland. This is dangerous because wild animals can hide in the tall grass; we cannot see them from the ground unless they move. We are constantly being warned not to walk alone at night; someone on the crew always accompanies us to our tents and makes sure we are safely ensconced inside before they go back to the main lodge tent. Last night, as soon as my head touched the pillow, I heard something big moving around outside. It knocked over the moveable water table out in front of my tent, then pushed against the canvas side; I was tempted to blow the emergency whistle provided for each tent, but waited to see what this animal would do next. Was I truly in any real danger? It seemed to be heading toward the back end of my tent, only one canvas width away from my bed, my head, and then I heard something metal smashing down. "Go go go, keep moving away!" I silently kept telling it, but I still waited on blowing the whistle as I heard it slowly moving further back, blessedly finally heading away. Tired from being up since 4AM for our hot-air balloon flight plus a full day's game viewing, at that point I relaxed and fell asleep. When we camp back home, only a tent's thin material keeps skunks, porcupines, bear, whatever is wandering around at night away from our bodies; anything could scratch or poke its way through - or even tear a tent down - if it truly wanted to do that. Here in the Serengeti since we were living among potentially dangerous wild animals, we had been warned not to keep any food in our tents; this is something I have known and respected for many decades. It is a life-saving lesson. No enticing smells; nothing of importance here; this is the message we send to all animals wherever we camp. So why would any animal want to demolish a tent, if nothing of interest was inside? So, again being safely unimportant, after that encounter I enjoyed a very good sleep that night.
During all four nights here in the Serengeti I have leard lions in the bush, hyenas and jackals, but this was the first time here that an animal has actually touched my tent, pushing against it. I was probably only eight or ten inches away from it's enormity. In the morning I saw that whatever it was had knocked down the solar panel behind my tent; this was part of the destruction in this animal's wake. Sultan, our guide, said it was a Cape buffalo moving through, that he had heard it too, that it liked to eat the tender grass beside my tent. And he pointed to the roughly chewed young grass. Not a lion this time, although in the black of night one's imagination can run as wild as the animals. We are the visitors: this is their home, not ours; we visit at our own acceptance of this truth.
Now the moon is rising; the sky is still blue although night is quickly coming on. It is our last night camping in the Serengeti. I will miss the expansive beauty, the silence (except for the wild animals' calling), the pure darkness. I will not miss driving through the waterlogged "roads," nor the resulting jarring bumps and skidding in the mud, fondly called an African massage. We are in the wild Serengeti, the endless plain.
Today we witnessed the results of two kills: one was a hyena pulling a gazelle carcass away from several vultures; the other was a male lion chomping down on the body of a young zebra. While we've been here I have seen four animals in the process of dying. This is the way of nature, but still my first thought is how can I help them? How can they be saved? They can't be. All will die and most definitely become food for another animal. This is life - and death - here. We probably wouldn't want it to be any other way, and even if we did, we have no power to change this cycle, one that works so very well.
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