What a Wild Weekend!

Greetings from Tanzania! We just returned from our semester break in Zanzibar, and as amazing as that was, I will be saving it for a later blog. However, never fear! Because as you can see from the title, you will be reading all about my extraordinary weekend on a safari!

Lions, Zebras, Giraffes, Oh My!

Last weekend, my friends and I together with our Swahili instructor/Program Coordinator Paulo saddled up in two jeeps and started our two-hour drive to the inside of Ruaha National Park in Iringa, Tanzania. I asked how the park rangers keep the animals from leaving the savannah or going toward villages that border the national park, and our guide said they don’t forcefully keep the animals in. If an elephant or any other animal gets close to public human interaction, Tanzanians will call the park rangers and they have a way of coaxing the animals safely back towards their habitat. Before we arrived at the park entrance, we passed two female lions who were most likely hunting and a few giraffes eating dinner. We officially reached the park’s entrance, waited for a few minutes, then went on another drive for about thirty minutes to the campground where our bandas, or little huts were. We passed a bridge above a river where we stopped to look at the pod of hippos. They were all swimming underwater, but right as we entered our jeeps we saw one walking around. It was huge! Afterward, we stopped for dinner at a canteen inside the park then retired for the night inside our bandas. Once the sun goes down, we are not allowed to go outside or walk around without a guard because of animals. Paulo was specifically worried about hungry lions.

On Saturday morning, we woke up before sunrise and drove to a field to take pictures. After capturing the pretty sights you will find above, we began our safari drive, or as Paulo called it: moving around and seeing animals. To set the mood, I played Circle of Life from the Lion King on my phone and it was a nice aesthetic. It took us a while to spot our first animal, but alas! We saw impalas! Impalas were a repetitive sight throughout the weekend and we were lucky to spot some kudu, a species of antelope. I didn’t even know there were different species of antelope! It was truly amazing to observe animals in their own natural habitat.

Spotting animals was a lot harder then I thought it would be, partly because the park is the largest national park in Tanzania and there are only a few roads we are allowed to actually drive on. However, our guides were really good and spotting animals and guides would stop and ask each other if they spotted any animals in certain nearby locations. We also listened to rustling trees or bushes and looked for other safari cars. When our guide saw a couple other safari cars over in the distance, we quickly turned our car around, sped over a few humps, then slowed down as we approached from behind the two lions enjoying pumzika time, or relaxing. Since we have to be quiet to not scare the animals, we instead whispered our “ohs” and “ahs” and took turned taking photos with the King of the Pride behind us.

The best part of the entire weekend was truly just being able to witness the animals in their natural habitats where there belong, instead of behind cages and glass screens. Knowing that we were guests in their home was a humbling experience and being able to observe them so closely as they ate leaves off the trees or guarded their young one was truly indescribable. I saw zebras for the first time up close and in the wild, and watched giraffes chomp flowers for lunch. We even lion prints in the sand and saw baboons fight for a few minutes! All I could say in the moment was “wow,” then proceded to stick my head out the window and hang on to the top of the jeep so my friend Erin could take a picture of me with the animals.

After half a day of “moving around,” everyone was in need of a nap! Around 4 pm, we went back out to see more animals. After dinner, some of us students gathered around a fire pit and just spent some quality time together sharing stories and conversations. At one point, we heard a lion! Except, he wasn’t growling, he was making a crying noise. The guard shined his flashlight over and over to spook the lion who was most likely across the river and not actually anywhere close to us, and we stopped hearing the noise. I thought the experience of hearing a lion in the wild was a bit fascinating but some of my friends were a bit spooked. So, a few minutes later we all were escorted back to our bandas for a good night’s rest.

The World’s Largest Land Animal

The most majestic moment of all however occurred on Sunday afternoon. As we were getting ready to turn around and begin exiting the park, we saw a herd of elephants behind some trees. Our guide began to drive us closer, but the elephants began walking further behind the bushes and trees away from the road. I witnessed a mother elephant wrap her trunk in front of a baby elephant as if signaling the young one to stay back. My heart raced at such a beautiful yet real moment. These animals, though still extremely protected, were subjected to what felt to them as an unknown danger. Though I could see and feel the irony of a safari trip in those few minutes, I still think it is important and beneficial that we have safari parks to provide opportunities where we can witnesses moments like a mother protecting her young so we are endeavored in preserving our wildlife animals. Humans should work together to preserve these beautiful creatures because they have emotions and families and are just as important to the world as we are.

As our driver began to drive off, we saw three elephants climbing up the hill beside us. They seemed to be walking towards the herd, but our safari cars were in their path. Our driver started to continue driving but we yelled “simama!” which means stop. We refused to miss the moments that would follow. I quickly asked my friend to take a picture of me with the elephant behind, and I took one of her. When we put down our phones to see the animals, one elephant stopped beside our cars. It was so close, we could see the groves in its skin and its long eyelashes. I made eye contact with this beautiful creature and was overwhelmed with emotions. It then flapped its ears one last time and began walking towards its family. It was a beautiful ending to an unforgettable trip.