The proud male lion is lit up, his big round face like a sun with his glorious golden mane illuminated against the backdrop of the thick night sky. If I wanted to paint a romantic picture I’d say he was basking in the glowing light, but I’m pretty certain this majestic animal doesn’t enjoy having a flashlight pointed directly in his face night after night.
Now I’m not against safaris, but I think there are both ethical and unethical ways of going about them. I visited both Addo Elephant Park and Schotia Game Reserve. Here the animals roam free in their huge landmass. You are forewarned that you may not even get to see any animals as the area is vast and well they’re animals not puppets. I like this!
We watched sad tourist faces leaving Addo after 4 hours of driving around and not spotting a single elephant. This made me chuckle – nice work elephants! There are around 500 elephants in Addo alone, so this gives you an idea of how much space they must have to play cat and mouse with the open topped tourist trucks crammed full of eager faces, binoculars and DSLRs.
I was one of the lucky ones though… we stumbled upon a herd munching their way through the bush. We also had a close call with one of the enormous Kruger bull elephants brought to Addo to mate with the local ladies and stop inbreeding. He was in musk, so basically on the hunt for a lady right then and there. This was apparent by the sticky fluid that ran down his back legs and his swagger. He was a boy elephant on a mission that’s for sure.
Then onto Schotia game reserve… During the daytime safari I was privileged to see Hippos, lions, giraffes, Rhinos (minus their tusks due to sneaky immoral hunters), crocodiles, springboks, zebras, impalas, warthogs, buffalo and many more animals but I forget their names – let’s just say versions of deer and antelope.
All in all this was a good experience, but I wasn’t overly comfortable with chasing the animals round to get a better view in our 4WDs. The night safari made me a little sad as we tracked the animals with a huge torch. This felt overly intrusive and if I could have hopped off at that point without being eaten by the predators I would have done.
So as you can probably tell I’ve become an opinionated so and so on this adventure, well I like to think educated but you may disagree. I was perhaps a little naive on the topic of zoos, aquariums and places where animals are paraded around for humans to take a closer look at. I’ve never been a fan of your basic zoo, with animals in tiny cages but often the lines are blurred. For example the Chengdu Panda Research Centre in China sounded like a reputable place, but I left feeling sad and awkward. The pandas live in small glass houses and are completely dependant on humans for survival. Humans feed, exercise and even bring up their babies. There is no intention of releasing these animals into the wild again.
I’ve done a few things whilst I’ve been away that have raised questions in my head about what’s acceptable and what isn’t. The Tiger Temples and Kingdoms of Thailand are not okay in my book. You just shouldn’t be able to cuddle tigers babies or adults, they’re probably drugged. I was assured they’d just been well fed… that’s not really okay either. Their bodies aren’t designed for daily overfeeding and an afternoon of putting on shows for humans.
I’ve actively avoided zoos and aquariums, for me there’s no fun in seeing animals in enclosures. I’m sure some are better than others and I’m open-minded about the places that work to get animals back into their natural habitat.
But there are definitely blurred lines. I’ve partaken in a couple of activities that the purists would probably wince at. Is swimming with dolphins okay? Well I was in their natural environment and was only allowed in the ocean with a few others and for a limited time. The wild bottle nosed dolphins seemed to enjoy it too. Watching the jumping crocs in Australia’s Northern Territory… well these crocs were fed by humans so it’s perhaps not as ethical as it should be. Diving with sharks in South Africa’s Protea Banks… again in their natural environment and the sharks just watched us ridiculous tanked up humans sail past. Oh and hanging out with Great White Sharks in Mossel Bay (I haven’t told you about this adventure yet) hmm this activity is supposed to be okay but I have a few doubts. They’re not supposed to feed the sharks but they do a little (the odd tuna head) – this could impact the ecosystem and perhaps make them associate tasteless humans with food.
I don’t profess to be the most clued up traveller when it comes to animal welfare but I’m learning with each new experience. I’d just urge all of you to think and question before you get involved in any animal related activity. Is there really any joy in seeing a wild animal not doing what it naturally does in its own environment? I don’t think so.