How long does the elephant have left on planet Earth? When will our greatest land mammal cease to wander?
Our notion of progress is tied to continuous industrial development. A notion that has been exported throughout the world. We’ve led ourselves to believe that the point of humanity is to build factories and convert nature into economically viable investments. But is this our true calling? Is this the path towards true enlightenment and natural harmony? What is the point of all the hard work and sacrifices of our ancestors over the millennia? Will we ever sate our need to consume? Or has a history of detachment from nature shaped us into a new type of animal, one who’s needs can never be met.
As more and more animals face extinction, it is up to us to ask ourselves what the point of our species is. Are we here solely to consume? Moving from one land to another until all resources are converted into dollars. And if some progress but others falter, is progress truly a progression?
Cohabiting on the plains of the Serengeti, zebra and wildebeest graze side by side. By enlarging the herd, there are more lookouts for toothsome predators. They may have different stripes, but when united for self preservation and faced with death, the differences fade away.
Just another lesson from the animal kingdom, one that we must embrace if we are to save our home from the perils of climate change. Happy Earth Day!
The dense and heavy fog that filled Ngorongoro was just starting to abate as we reached the crater floor. Having spent the night sleeping on the rim of the dormant volcano, we woke invigorated by the splendour of our natural surroundings. We begged our guides to make sure we were the first truck inside the crater, and we got what we asked for.
Just as I was clawing the remnants of sleep from the corners of my eyes, we spotted a pride of lions sprawled in tall grass. As we approached, they barely flinched. The stains of blood smeared across their faces left them nearly comatose, burdened with the meat of a fresh kill. Behind them, we spotted a destroyed zebra carcass, picked clean. Hard to argue with the efficiency of nature.
It seems pretty obvious that we don’t choose the life we are born into. A toddler doesn’t choose their country, their government, their family, their religion, their history, or their social class. When two people come together to bring a new human into the world, they bring them into a life already riddled with rules and limitations, but it isn’t their world either. It is the world they inherited from their parents and grandparents and so on back until the dawn of time. Our societies grow out of necessity and convenience, creating a world around us. But as our societies grew and developed, we began to explore the world and export our customs and cultures. We exploited those that we could and established a hierarchy of human value, based largely on geography. We forgot that each and every person is part of something bigger. We forgot it about ourselves. We forgot that we belong to a larger collective. A collective of human beings, struggling one against the other for a bigger part of the proverbial pie. But the forgotten truth is that we are the pie, and we each deserve to be valued for who we are rather than where we are. So when we take more than we need, we take from one another, weakening the whole of humanity.
When the sun finally set on our first day on safari, I knew I had made the right decision. To me, going on safari seemed like one of those things only rich old white people did, not young stinky adventurers. But in this case, I think I was duped by the khaki fashion designers and I was happy to be wrong.
After sourcing a budget version, which switched lodge accommodations for camping (exactly what I wanted), it became feasible. After researching the sights on our itinerary, it became impossible to stop dreaming about.
The glowing orange sun was disappearing when our guide announced it was time to head back to camp. We arrived at tent city, stuffed our faces with delicious fresh food and curled up into our sleeping bags. As I drifted off into an exhausted sleep, I was lost to the wailings of hyenas, the snorts of water buffalo, and the trumpeting of elephants. Perfect.
I had dreamed of going on safari all my life. I wanted to be surrounded by animals, indifferent to my existence. I wanted to be wrapped up in the wild, cut off from the world and its rules.
We, humans, employ our logic and rationality on an irrational world. We seek truths and answers to push us from one day to the next. But our answers are only that, ours. Our lives are guided by our collective subjective interpretations of the world around us, forming what we perceive as objective truths. But our truths are fragments, silhouettes of a fuller picture. The only objective truth we have is the one we are born into. We are alive.
It was nearing the end of the day when we climbed back into the Landcruiser. We had been driving for hours through the open plains of the Serengeti National Park. We had seen cheetahs sprinting and playing in tall grass, giraffes picking the choicest leaves off the tallest trees, and elephants bathing in fresh springs.
I got in the truck and climbed onto my seat to poke my head out through the open roof. As our driver threw the engine into life, we shot off down the baked dirt road. There I was. In the middle of the Serengeti, surrounded by some of the most exotic animals here on Earth. The wind rushed through my hair and dust burrowed into the crevices of my skin. I looked around in every direction as golden light fell, cascaded across the tall water starved grass.
In my mind, I zoomed out on where I was. I floated high up into the sky, looking down at myself as I became a speck upon a great continent. We all became specks. Specks, all connected through the same flowing energy of our home planet.
I came to, just as a truck further ahead shot dust into the still air, leaving it to hang suspended in the setting sun. Best day ever.
Dust shot into the air as my feet touched down. Stepping out of an old Landcruiser, I took of my old ball cap and wiped an engrained line of dust and sweat from my brow. I was nearing the end of my time in northern Tanzania, but had one more experience to check off the list, to visit the famous Maasai people.
Even as I sit here and write about it, I still feel conflicted. To enter the village, we paid for access. In return for our payment, we had a stunning dance and song performed for us and were welcomed inside the village. Generally, this is not how I like to meet people. I want to connect on a human level, not an economic one. I understand that we all want to make money, but when we sell out our heritage and culture, what does it say as to what we value? And it isn’t hard to guess where the Maasai learned this trick.
Bouncing along the seldomly smooth roads of northern Tanzania, I kept my camera in hand. Alongside the packed dirt roads were young children running around chasing sheep and goats. I learned that kids were often put in charge of a flock and it was their responsibility to find new grasses to graze. To some it may seem unfair that these children are put to work so young, but they are receiving an education for the life they will know. They will learn to care for animals, the value of responsibility and where to find the greenest grass in a country often ravaged by drought.
I spent a couple of years living in Egypt, where I made a point of visiting some of the poorest regions. At first, the poverty seemed almost absurd, so unbelievable in its difference from my own life in Canada. An Egyptian friend, who shared a small apartment with three dogs and no furnishings taught me a valuable lesson, he told me “We don’t feel poor, this is a normal life.”
People don’t often realize that despite their own life feeling “normal”, it isn’t. There is no norm for how humans live. We are born into different environments and adapt accordingly, a blend of nature and nurture. The “poverty” in Egypt felt overwhelmingly surreal to me, but now as I walk down the snow covered sidewalks of Toronto, the affluence and excess feels just as surreal and doubly as absurd. After all, it’s all relative.
The Great Migration is an epic event of nature, heralded as one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. Taking place between Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Park and Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, close to 2 million wildebeest make the giant loop in search of water and greener pastures.
During their constant search for survival, they bring new life into the world and lose lives at the end of their cycle. As the favourite meal for most of Africa’s major predators, wildebeest travel in giant herds with a swarm mentality, working as one unit for the preservation of their species.
Lessons from the natural world.