As it is a guide’s job to keep his guests happy and give them the experience of a lifetime, you would probably not expect an awful lot of tears on a safari. Unless of course, the guide is doing his job extremely well, or extremely badly! During a past work-cycle, I twice looked around to see my guests crying. Fortunately, in both cases it was because they were totally overwhelmed with joyous emotions from simply sitting in the middle of a breeding herd of elephants; something that as a child used to bring me to tears too, albeit for totally different reasons!
As a kid, I had an absolute phobia of these large grey beasts, and I can recall one incident like it was yesterday (and in case you are wondering, that is an entirely figurative use of the word!); I was about 13 years old, after wondering around looking at a tortoise some distance from the Land Rover, I climbed back into the vehicle and looked up to see a family of elephants walking right past where I had been standing a minute before! For a kid with a phobia of elephants, this was the equivalent of a near-death experience, and I immediately began shaking so much that the whole vehicle wobbled for the remainder of the sighting…but there were no tears! Oh no, those only started coming as I got older.
Now, I am not sure if I am a bit odd because of the fact that over the course of my guiding career I can actually recall three occasions when I have cried (for non-woman-related issues, that is), or am I odd because I will actually admit to having cried on three occasions over the course of my guiding career? Either way, the cat is out of the bag now, so I might as will continue with this story.
The first two occasions actually happened within a month of one another, and both involved the deaths of two animals that I had spent hundreds of hours watching; the first and biggest blow was the rather tragic loss of the dominant male leopard in our area, who was affectionately known as Batman. That hit me hard, and more for the manner of how he died than anything else; but I like to think that I was not the only guide that shed a tear when he lay on his bed at the end of a very blue Monday the day that we heard the news. I was just coming to terms with Batman’s loss when I witnessed one of our resident lionesses being attacked and killed by three nomadic male lions that sprung up out of nowhere! Making the situation worse was the fact that she had just had a litter of cubs that were now doomed to a slow death because of the loss of their mother. My tears were as much for anger as they were for sadness, knowing that this attack was not going to be the last of attacks like these by said males. Sadly, this premonition was true, and all the lionesses in this pride were eventually wiped out; but by the fourth lioness, the tears had stopped flowing.
Before you start grabbing for the tissues, my third crying session is a much happier one! I do just have to contextualise the situation a bit, as it slotted right in the middle of one most of my amazing string of game drives that I have ever taken any guests on. These were the sorts of drives I used to dream about taking when I was a little boy (back when I cried for many other reasons, such as being made to eat my vegetables, or when He-Man’s head fell off). I had a Swedish, an Australian, and a South African couple for three nights, and being their first time on safari, everything was new and amazing to them. However, it was a one of those cases of whatever they asked to see, they got to see. We had fantastic leopard sightings, a large herd of buffalo drinking in the moonlight, sitting on a rock watching elephants drinking 30m away. We had to then decide between spending time with a pack of wild dogs or going to see a pride full of lion cubs 800m away (we opted for the latter and watched them catch an impala as the International Space Station orbited overhead). Their last morning saw them wanting hyenas and cheetah; we found a dozen of the former eating a kudu before amazingly picking up tracks for the latter as we were searching for a leopard. An hour later and the slender, spotted beauty was sitting on a mound watching a herd of 50 elephants drinking in the distance. All pretty damn amazing sightings!
So, with that scene set, it seems a bit odd that of all the animals we saw, it was a giraffe that brought me to tears. I took the guests on a midday bush walk – the ones that we normally don’t see any animals on, as animals are not as stupid as us and don’t go walking around in the midday sun – but today was different and we saw impala, waterbuck, and even a wonderful herd of giraffes that were so relaxed we were able to walk within 30m of them! Not wanting to overstay our welcome, we carried on down into the riverbed towards a pool of water, and out of the bush to our left popped a male giraffe. I told the guests to stand dead still, and dead quiet – although even a blind mole would have seen the six of us standing out in the middle of a dry riverbed with no cover! But the giraffe didn’t seem to mind. No, instead he approached the water and began to drink about 15m from us. I glanced to my right, and there a hippo was ambling down the middle of the riverbed towards us, luckily, he walked into the water about 40m away. I turned my head to the left then back to the right, but it wasn’t to look at the giraffe or the hippo, it was to shake my head in disbelief at the fact that I was standing in the middle of the African bush, seemingly invisible to the animals around me. And just like that, my eyes welled up with tears and I just stood there. Watching the giraffe. Crying.
Not even the leopard we found resting up a tree on the next day’s walk produced that result, and to this day, I am not sure what I wonder about more; whether those guests have any idea about just how incredibly fortunate they were to have seen what they saw in three days; or whether or not any of them saw those tears behind my sunglasses and realised that game rangers do cry?