For today’s blog entry Claire Bass, WSPA International’s Marine Mammal Programs Manager, recounts her fascinating experiences while traveling in the Serengeti and Masai Mara Reserves in Africa.
Ever since following David Attenborough’s wildlife series as a child I had dreamed of visiting the great plains of Africa. In September 2009 the dream became a reality when I visited the Serengeti and Masai Mara Reserves in Kenya and Tanzania. These are two of Africa’s most celebrated wildlife-viewing locations, home to an astonishing diversity and volume of wildlife.
Living in a protected environment the animals are not especially fearful of humans and are habituated to the trucks and all-wheel-drive vehicles which endlessly traverse their vast grassland home. There are strictly enforced rules preventing vehicles from driving off the designated roadways, and the bumpiness of the roads means that no great speeds are attained! Close encounters with animals are strictly on their terms – if they don’t like the look of you then they leave, but mostly our presence was of no interest to them at all. The lions were especially indifferent to our frantic camera clicking and hushed “wow’s”; they exuded a complacent air of supremacy which made us feel wholly insignificant – that deep amber stare carries an almost primeval warning: “step outside the metal box and you’re lunch!”
The tour company we went with – Intrepid Travel – was excellent, our guide was informative about the different species we saw and our driver was careful not to “crowd” animals where other vehicles were already present, or to interrupt behaviors such as hunting or sleeping.
The trip had so many highlights it’s hard to pick from them but a couple of memorable ones spring to mind. During the couple of nights we spent in a camp in the heart of the Serengeti we heard lions and cheetahs and hyenas calling to each other – nothing between us and them except a sheet of canvas and a few hundred meters of bush – an incredible experience. Another night we stayed at a campsite on the rim of the Ngorongoro craterand were warned that there was a special night time visitor to the camp and we should keep our torches and wits about us… sure enough at around 11pm we encountered an elephant casually rummaging in the bushes outside the toilets!
A safari in Africa really is the holiday of a lifetime – the sheer size and diversity of the place really puts things in perspective. Traveling around in our truck I had a genuine sense that we were the ones kept captive whilst the animals freely went about their every day business – the opposite of a zoo! Not only is the obviously far better for the welfare of the animals, it also affords us humans a much better insight into their natural lives and behaviors.
To find volunteer opportunities that will get you closer to animals, visit the Volunteer Abroadsection of WSPA’s Compassionate Travel website.