By Linda Kohn Sherwood
He was tall and lanky. Sweet, really, with those big, round, glistening eyes. And he came to my window to get what was his. I was in his home, visiting him and his wide family of distant cousins eating, frolicking, protecting, running and surviving throughout the plains of Tanzania and Kenya. He came to my window to get a kiss and a treat. Ok, maybe just a treat - the kiss was his price to pay.
The staff at the manor warned us that these were not pets. The giraffes were patient with us humans because they were rewarded for their behavior, but make no mistake. Walk up to a giraffe and startle it in any way and its kick could send you flying through the air or worse. Lions knew better. Do you read my words? I was on the same playing field as lions. But safer. Stay in the jeeps, they warned. These wild animals don't recognize you as a threat because you are not walking and are shaped like a jeep. Ok, I accept being shaped like a jeep just this one time. But the lions did get close, brushed the jeep as they walked by, perhaps to let me know this was their home.
A cheetah jumped on top of one of the jeeps. And he sat there for a long time. It turns out the jeep was inhabited by a lone, professional photographer. Lucky photographer!!!!!! He had to have been less than 3 feet away from this magnificent cat, face to face. But I was lucky, too, and got to poise my camera close to them both. Perhaps the cheetah liked the warmth of the vehicle and the high platform for checking the horizon. No human moved or left until the cheetah decided we could go, until the cheetah decided to take a walk and leave us. Then we were excused.
I wanted to experience the Great Migration: Up to two million wildebeests and hundreds of thousands of zebras & gazelles walk and run across the plains of East Africa in July and August from south to north, from the Serengeti in Tanzania over the border into Kenya's Masai Mara Game Reserve. I've heard these African names before, seen the Mara River crossing on the Discovery Channel, but to see it before my eyes.....was a privilege. There were a lot of animals!!!!
We caught sight of them while sitting in a jeep on the Kenya side. The hoards had just reached the Mara River and seemed to stop and eat just at the edge. Come on, I wished. We came all this way to see you. But this was not my party and I had no say-so. We sat and waited. And were finally rewarded for our patience. One lone wildebeest decided to put his hooves into the river and cross. A second one followed. Then 20, then 50, and the floodgates opened. Like a crowd trying to find the exit, they lined up as far as the eye could see and ran and jumped across the river, instinct driving them north. I'm breathless as I type these words.
The people who live in the animal kingdom's home are in rhythm with their neighbors. While being protective of their own homes and families, they are respectful of those homes and families of the animals. They understand the cycle of life and death and that the weak do not survive. Elephants circle to protect their young and mourn the loss of the old. A matriarchal society, the elephants have a clear understanding that when the eldest female dies, the second eldest takes over. And the men roam, but not too far. Families are forever, or at least until death separates them. Instincts help them to survive, turning their heads to the north, towards more tall grass.
Lessons learned. How many of you can say that your dog or your horse has taught you about life? Most of you, I'll bet. Animals that roam the earth own it - it was their home first, and this is most evident in Africa. The lessons learned were those of life, death, survival and loyalty. I was kissed by a giraffe and fell in love with a continent.
Linda Kohn Sherwood, our editor, shared her experience with husband Joseph, and friends Bob and Lora.