Saturday, 20 July 2013

Life, The Game Reserve, and Everything

During one of our last weeks here in South Africa we visited a game reserve. The day began relatively early with a rushed breakfast followed by all of us shuffling into a small bus smelling heavily of cigarettes. Enveloped in this comforting morning aroma most of the group took this as an opportunity to catch up on much needed sleep. We drove for some time over an hour to reach our destination, during which several of us snapped pictures of the sun rising over the mountain-scape.
            Upon arrival we were met with another breakfast followed by face painting that I did not partake in. From here the real meat of the experience begins. We walked outside to be greeted by large touring trucks featuring completely exposed engines and rows of bench seating. Once they started going it took a bit to get used to the constant jostling our off-roading adventure was providing. While the game reserve in no way compares to the massive game parks that I think we’ve all seen on TV it did offer a more intimate experience. While there weren’t immense herds of animals, for the animals they did have we drove our lumbering truck right up to them and took pictures while our guide talked about the finer points of their behaviour.
            The variety of animals on display can probably be imagined based on what most people have seen or heard about Africa. We began with Cape Buffalo, followed by eland, zebras, antelope, elephants, wildebeests, rhinos, lions, and ending with a lone ostrich. To go into descriptions of all of these animals would probably be tedious for many and to also include pictures would make this post overlong but worth mentioning separately out of all of those were the rhinos.
            The rhinos are worth mentioning because they got me thinking. This small little reserve filled me with awe but upon seeing these rhinos I also realized there was sadness there too. The two rhinos the park had in their possession lacked horns, and not because that is some sort of rare and unspectacular rhino variant but because several years ago they had been poached. Poachers had snuck onto the premises, tranquilized the rhinos, and used saws to remove their horns. They cut deep, damaging the bone growth plate of one of the rhinos and we were told that it would never re-grow because of this. To me this represented human greed and ignorance on the small scale, but it also made me begin to think that there was something fundamentally wrong with the park as a whole.
Not that it was a bad experience or that I wasn’t enjoying myself but just that I realized at that point that none of this was natural or at least what we’d like to think of natural as being. In reality it’s more unnatural that those animals are there than if they were absent at this point. Looking at the reserve, at Cape Town, South Africa, America, and the world it becomes increasingly clear how much has been squandered. Now I don’t want to get all moralistic and say that the human consumption and the pursuit of small green pieces of paper is evil because what species on the planet doesn’t multiply until it becomes impossible to do so. Eventually populations hit their carrying capacity after which things take a dive, and the realization that this probably isn’t the greatest idea to consume with no end may be what really separates humans from other animals. Does this assert that people who don’t have this epiphany are animals? Maybe, and perhaps it’s my duty as the lone GECS major of the trip to document this.  
But to end on a lighter, less philosophical note; overall the show of life on display was incredible. How all this came about from some primordial soup to give rise to what we saw that day is amazing and awe-inspiring both in its improbability and in its beauty.

-Andre Phillips 

P.S. Thank you Maggie for allowing me to use your wonderful pictures for these posts.

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