What a giraffe in Maasai Mara taught me about humans

Thursday November 23 2017



Sunset in Maasai Mara. PHOTO| CARO ROLANDO

Sunset in Maasai Mara. PHOTO| CARO ROLANDO 

By CARO ROLANDO
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Thick socks. A raincoat. A wool hat. I was wearing all of them, and still, I shivered.

No, I was not on Everest; I was in the Maasai Mara.

On November 13, my dad and I took our very first trip to Kenya’s most renowned national park.

As a mzungu who had only ever been exposed to Western depictions of safaris - images of old, white men in a wide-brimmed hats - I was excited to have my expectations challenged. And they were.

For one, I thought it would be boiling hot.

Yeah, right.

I quickly learned that sunrise and sunset were my cues to bring out my bulky fleece sweater - a sight which thoroughly amused my fellow tourists.

“How do you survive winter in Canada?” they teased. (Hint: many, many...many scarves).

I’ll confess that I was also worried I would get bored of spending all day looking at animals. I had seen hippos, lions and monkeys in zoos, after all.

Wouldn’t it get repetitive following them around in a car for four days?

The writer poses for a photo with her father.

The writer poses for a photo with her father. PHOTO| CARO ROLANDO

Negative.

HEART SKIPPED A BEAT

From the moment I saw my first wild animal - a giraffe - my heart skipped a beat.

Not only was I mesmerised by its beauty; I was also in complete awe when our guide told us that giraffes have a symbiotic - or mutually beneficial - relationship with oxpeckers.

The tiny birds feed themselves by eating ticks off the giraffe’s fur. This, in turn, relieves giraffes from the nuisance of the blood-sucking parasites.

I had read about symbiosis in school, but seeing it in action caused me to reflect on the way that our own species lives.

“How funny it is,” I told my dad, “that a giant, orange creature can host a tiny, fragile being on its back, when some humans can’t even speak to one another because of politics.”

Let’s be clear: I’m fully aware that it’s not all peace and love in the Mara. On our second day there, my dad and I witnessed a cheetah hunt a baby impala. We saw the impala’s mother come to mourn the loss of her baby, before a lion came and stole the cheetah’s prey.

“That’s corruption in nature,” my dad joked, as we watched the lion steal her opponent’s lunch. “She didn’t even have to work for her food.”

Animals in the wild kill one another to survive - and that’s something that no amount of denial or sadness can change.

But homo sapiens are different.

A silhouette of a giraffe in Maasai Mara.

A silhouette of a giraffe in Maasai Mara. PHOTO| CARO ROLANDO

In most instances, humans have a choice about how we obtain the goods we need to survive.

We can decide whether to pursue our basic needs - like food and land - in honest, and non-violent ways.

That can mean ensuring that the animals we eat were treated ethically before being killed, or consulting with others before inhabiting land or purchasing certain products.

Beautiful landscape in Maasai Mara. PHOTO| CARO

Beautiful landscape in Maasai Mara. PHOTO| CARO ROLANDO

Seeing the lion steal the baby impala was like holding up a mirror to the society we live in.

The way I see it, humans have a choice. We can either continue killing and stealing from each other, or we could strive to be more like the giraffe and the oxpecker - finding mutually beneficial ways to make the world an easier place to live in.

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FACTBOX

The Maasai Mara is approximately 280kms west of Nairobi. You can get there by road or by air.

Driving to the Maasai Mara from Nairobi can take between 5-6 hours. As parts of the route can be bumpy, it’s recommended to travel in a 4x4 vehicle or a van. Drivers with 4x4 vehicles and vans are available for hire for set fees that can range from Sh10,000-35,000 per day.

Flying to the Maasai Mara takes about 45 minutes from Nairobi and costs approximately Sh37,000 for a roundtrip.

Accommodation options in the park vary from campsites that can cost Sh2,500 per night to mid-range lodges that cost about Sh8,000 per person, per day. If you have money to spare, upscale lodges offer accommodation including meals and transportation for costs starting at Sh20,000 per day to Sh200,000!

 Park entrance fees are as follows: Kenyan citizens and other East African citizens pay Sh1000 per person per day.

Children and students pay Sh200

Non resident adults are charged $80 per person per day, while children and students are charged between US $40-45.