(This is the next installment in my series that began here about our return trip to Tanzania after 15 years away.)
Most people going on safari want to see cats. There are the enlightened people and birders who find great satisfaction spotting elusive small mammals and rare birds. We tried to be those people, and even succeeded sometimes. The reality is one can spend a long time, a really long time seeing nothing… that is, if you are looking for a particular something (cats!). And with children in tow, the fear is that too much of an expensive, once-in-a-lifetime trip may end up being spent like this.
There are a few ways to combat the sense of “seeing nothing.”
One is to have a great guide. Just like on our less-than-lucky turtle hunt, we were fortunate on this safari to have a super guide who kept things fascinating even when there didn’t seem to be much to appreciate. When shared at just the right moment, interesting facts about animal behavior, bugs, and trees can go a long way in keeping spirits up and eyes scanning.
Another strategy is to appreciate what you DO see. I’m pretty good at this one and I enjoy it. Because in fact it feels good to notice the things that might go unnoticed. I’m sure my children tired of hearing me say, “I’d be happy just to go on a cloud safari or a tree safari. Look at that one!” Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled to see the cats and elephants too. But in the meantime it gives me joy to appreciate the views as well.
A third approach to keeping things interesting is to keep a list like birders and biologists. What a sense of accomplishment they must feel to look back on all the species they “collected.” Elsa Ruth was the only one of us who did this and I can’t remember how she got the idea. I think it was in part that she was in possession of just the right notebook with a loop around it and pen holder. After determining that her book would be both a list and a place for observation notes she divided it up alphabetically, giving more pages to H (anticipating hyena, hartebeest, and hippo) than to X (obviously Mom!).
Though not an entirely systematic list, (“Should Golden Jackal go under G or J?”) it didn’t matter a bit because Elsa Ruth’s enthusiasm and dedication was contagious. We rallied too, prompting her, “Have you listed Dwarf Mongoose yet?”
So how cool was it when we met real live researchers, field biologist in the field!? Actually, they were hanging out at our lodge on the edge of the Serengeti one evening and more than willing to chat with us.
Anne Hilborn (left), a cheetah researcher from Virginia Tech, was enthused to hear about Elsa Ruth’s list. Simon loved that Ingela Jansson (right), a Swede who studies Serengeti lions, matched his enthusiasm in talking about the lion with diarrhea we had seen that day. (In case you too are curious, that happens sometimes after a big meal.)
Thank you to these two and to everyone who makes the effort to share their profession with children who are not their own. Who knows, those connections might just be the spark that powers a future biologist, social worker, medic, programmer, or architect.
And guess what? We DID get to see the Big Cats! Next Tuesday: Big Cats- Part 2