An Unconventional Love Affair

By Jennifer Warner

Let me tell you a little love story. It may take you on a few ups and downs on a

safari game drive vehicle through the savannah bush, but stick with me, it will be worth

all the dirt caked on your eyebrows.

[PRESENT DAY] My 04:30 alarm violently erupts, early Saturday morning, waking me

(and my poor tent-mate, Kaitlyn) up, unaware of the impactful day ahead. Along with 5

other students, I would be going on a ranger-led bush walk through Kruger National

Park. Walking through parks was not an uncommon occurrence for me, but when lions,

tigers, and bears (oh my) were included in the mix, my confidence in the endeavor was

lacking. With rifles in hand, two strong, knowledgeable, local rangers instructed us to

stay quiet, in single file and do exactly what they say (if they say, “climb a tree,” you

climb the nearest plant like object no matter how many thorns).

I understood that walks through the bush were generally unsuccessful regarding

animal sightings. Yet, as the optimistic (and perhaps naïve) adventurer that I am, I

hoped for a slew of animals prancing just feet from me. We began our saunter through

the bush and within ten minutes, we came across a male giraffe. I stopped walking, my

mouth agape, unable to process this moment. We have seen countless giraffes from

our game drive vehicles (GDV’s), but I have never stood on the same ground as they

have. Still about 100 feet away, I had to crane my neck to see their entirety: majestic,

inquisitive, strong. We stared at each other, me in utter amazement, and him in total

fear. Standing in at a tall five feet two inches, this 16-foot-tall animal was not fearful of

my sausage filled body of meat, but of the lead loaded in the tool ahead of me.

[FLASHBACK] A wide-eyed, less pungent, Jennifer, steps off the plane in Hoedspruit,

South Africa, enthralled with the new adventure she was beginning. Giddy, she grabs

her backpack from the tractor and hops onto her first GDV to start a voyage to Wits

Rural Facility. The minute the vehicle hits the road, she hears “Hey look a giraffe.” A

quiet laugh exits her mouth, until she glances briefly to her left. It was real. A real

creature, in its real habitat, with its real family. Something inside of Jennifer crumples.

Her rough, strong exterior, was stolen. Her steel filled body, was incinerated. The void

on the left side of her chest was filled with some warm, beating contraption. Some other

passengers on the GDV claim to have seen a solitary tear streak down the face of

Jennifer, but she sternly assures them that it was merely a concentrated rain shower

that just happened to be centered on the right corner of her eye (obviously a common

occurrence for Africa). From that moment on Gerald the giraffe, and the rest of his

family, continued to follow her throughout her visit to his homeland. Two different hearts,

two separate species, with one connected soul.

[PRESENT DAY] As Gerald and I stare at each other, I am humbled. Humbled to share

this land with Gerald, and humbled to share this Earth with such diverse creatures.

Because of such deep, personal connections with this land, my perceptions towards

conservation are changed. I am forever grateful to have the opportunity to experience

their land; forever connected to the savannah ecosystems; forever indebted to Kruger

National Park. My wish is for every person to have the opportunity to gain these life-

changing connections.

But he does not feel the same way. My newly gained heart was heavy, yet I was

content. With a slow turn, and an awkward scurry, Gerald left. He can smell the lead. He

was not fearful of me. Incredible animals, like these, are being poached, taken away

from their diverse community, because of the sole ability humans have gained to

develop and use tools. Hierarchy between species may be needed, but it is important to

remember that all animals share commonalities. In the scope of things, Homo sapiens

and Giraffa cameloppardalis are not that much different. If western society can

remember that fact, I believe that our world could live much more harmoniously. Gerald

and I would be able to live happily ever after. Allowing an unconventional love affair, to

be a bit more conventional.

Natalie Miller