Etosha National Park, Namibia – August 2015
The springbok are the first to appear. A collective sigh of relief fills the safari truck. We have been driving for an hour with no sign of wildlife. The guide passes out a checklist of all the creatures that roam Etosha. I glance at it and lay it aside. Turn my attention out the window. A thick gauze of dust hangs in the air. Grainy, diffuse sunlight. August is a strange month. The animals are restless, unpredictable. I do not get my hopes up.
More creatures emerge from the dust. Ostriches strut by. Harsh glares are cast in our direction. The brush thickens.
Long necks sway above the bushes. Curious flowers in a summer breeze. I catch my breath. Have I strayed into a dream world? The giraffe is, to me, the most fanciful mammal on Earth.
“What do you call a group of giraffes?” The guide pauses. “A tower.”
Just before I embarked on this journey, I came across an interview with a female trophy hunter. There was outrage at a photo of her with a giraffe she had allegedly shot. Its long neck was coiled at her feet. Long eyelashes eternally at rest. During the interview, the woman stared into the camera. Batted her eyelashes. The hunt was therapy for recent personal problems. And giraffes are dangerous! They can hurt you bad! More photos of her flashed across the screen: Chest puffed out. Silicone melons pressed against a tight t-shirt. Glittery fingernails clasped around a hot pink hunting bow. Then she recited that Bible quote about humans holding dominion over the Earth. And the interview was finished.
Those who truly know power feel no need to wield it. With what will her kind fill the emptiness when all of the creatures are gone?
Night and day again. I have seen elephants, a leopard, rhinos, and lions. My eyes seek out the littler ones. I contemplate the innate symbiosis. In some, there is a predatory need. It is for survival. It is nothing personal. It is up to the prey to learn how to recognize it and defend itself.
And yet some never lose their gentle curiosity.
The jackal paces back and forth, grimacing in our direction.
“Jackals are intelligent,” the guide says. “But he’s acting peculiar.”
Finally, the jackal sighs and squats. Its grimace widens as its bowels are emptied. We burst into laughter.
I lower my camera. “Aw, he just wanted a little privacy.”
Now, the winged creatures. I have always observed them by sound rather than sight. My eyes sweep across the landscape. There they are. Perched right beside us. I imagine what it would be like to hold the littlest one in my cupped hands. The rapid flutter of its heart. The song that longs to burst from its throat. I would lift it to my ear, close my eyes, and listen. Tales of its journeys far, far above.
And when they return to Earth for the last time, who will notice the void left behind by their silence?