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Monday, October 25, 2010

Confessions of a Game Park Snob

We confess: we are game park snobs. Bonified. It started with mild criticism and comparison, which overtime grew into full blown snobbery. It peaked in the Serengeti when we were following a leopard lead given to us by a park guide. In hot pursuit I was rounding a corner and forced to an abrupt stop by a mother elephant grazing alongside the road. The mother was protecting her baby by standing between us and the grazing tike. She was pretty much in the road and we couldn’t get around her. We sat, impatiently in the car trying to make our move, annoyed by her presence deterring us in our leopard pursuit. Yes, we are in a game park to see the animals, I see the hypocrisy.
In our defense, we’ve been spoiled. We’ve had the opportunity to experience some of the best game parks in Africa. We’ve been to world famous parks like Etosha in northern Namibia, Botswana’s Chobe and The Serengeti in Tanzania as well as a number of small, lesser known reserves established and ran by some remarkable individuals dedicated to preserving the diversity of Africa’s wild things. All are great in their goals of setting aside and preserving wild spaces for a host of animals living constantly under threat of habitat loss, but not all parks are equal. In fact, we’ve been pretty much ruined by our experience in Maasai Mara. Fortunately for us, it is one of the last parks we’ll visit along our route. I don’t think there are many north of Kenya. But let me tell you, Maasai Mara was like the biggest finally you could imagine; it is a veritable spectacle of wildlife.

Our visit coincided with the tail end of the wildebeest migration so we got to witness hundreds of thousands of these gorgeous creature on their annual migration south through Maasai Mara across the Mara and Grumeti Rivers and back into The Serengeti where they’ll spend most of their year grazing before returning again in July/August. We saw lions mate! What a sight. One night, while we were (illegally) bush camping, a lion approached our car - just as we were dozing off to sleep – startled by our presence roared its head off; the noise was so incredibly loud it rattled the car! I didn’t go out to pee that night. And there was a Momma cheetah and her six adorable cubs, beautiful crested cranes courting one another along the sandy banks of a stream, vultures, storks and raptors galore, a leopard passing just beyond our picnic spot, a pack of hyenas devouring a wildebeest, lion cubs devouring wildebeests and vultures and Marabou cranes devouring a wildebeest. I mentioned there are hundreds of thousands of wildebeests didn’t I? Well, not all of them make it and the number of predators and scavengers seem to somehow keep the balance in check. It was animaltastic! Every day was a spectacle.

But being in a park loaded with animals doesn’t mean you are necessarily going to see them all. I mean, in Mara you’d have to be blind to miss the grazers, but the cats and some of the more elusive animals don’t necessarily hang out along the road. However, as game park snobs, we’ve acquired a few skills along the way to help ensure success. For starters, we discarding many of the park rules; in Africa there are a lot of rules, but very little enforcement and what little enforcement there is are so dang nice and friendly that a polite oppsy, or sorry is enough to get you by. Secondly, we have all but stopped looking for animals. Now we can sit back and enjoy the scenery. What we do look for are other park guides; parked cars are a dead giveaway for something cool lurking in the bushes. And lastly, we ask the game drivers where the goods are. They all have radios and they know who hangs out where. So why reinvent the wheel? Instead of two pair of eyes we have an entire game park full of eyes doing the scanning and searching for us.  We swoop in and snap the photo.

We hope that you enjoy the spectacle.
Sending our love from the half way point,

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