Drop Your Pride

By Tess Scarborough

As the strawberry sun arose over the horizon this morning, golden rays of light bathed our surroundings. The day was new, and so was my outlook. I was in a confusing, emotional state from the homestays but there was nothing I could do about it now so I just decided to put it out of my mind and enjoy the unbelievable accommodations provided for us. (There is literally a pool overlooking the water hole in which many hippos, alligators, and a variety of birds frequented often.) Sunrise is my favorite time of day. Quiet, peaceful, full of opportunities. We loaded up into the Range Rover Safari Vehicle that had stacks of seats reminiscent of an auditorium and set off on our adventure. Curled into blankets, accompanied by good company, warm coffee in hand--life was good.

At this point in the program, we had seen all of the Big 5 animals, except Rhino. The Big 5 game animals include Cape Buffalo, Elephant, Leopard, Lion, and Rhino. Our tour guides Bruce and Helen (names have been changed for security purposes) are extremely familiar with this area and had a feeling they knew where to find this elusive creature. In our two separate game drive vehicles (GDVs) we began to engage in a race to see who would be able to spot the animal first. A call came over the radio shortly after telling us the cars location, indicating they had found the rhino and won the race. We arrived to the magnificent site of a mother White Rhino and her two different aged offspring. The older offspring was just about to be old enough to venture out on her own, like a teenager still living at their parent’s house.

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After way too little time admiring the animal, we set off on a secret adventure with speed and agility. Although it was undisclosed what beast we were tracking, I had a feeling we were looking for lions due to the large paw prints pressed into the soft sand of the trail. Turning a corner, my surprise slapped me straight in the face. Two female adolescent lions were lounging in the tall golden grass. Looking further, I discovered the rest of the pride, adults and older cubs, (around 4 maybe?) soaking up the sun, relaxing. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The immense natural beauty was astounding and hard to describe in words. The boundless respect was just bursting out of me. After about fifteen minutes (which felt like ten seconds) their ears perked up and they were on their feet in an instant, chasing something unseen. We were thinking they were noticing the vultures circling overhead in the distance, a signal that something had been killed recently, and the kill was close.

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Integrating myself into a college atmosphere right after high school was extremely difficult for me, as I’m sure it was for many other students. I had no idea what I wanted to do with the entirety of the rest of my life, and even more unsure of what major would bring me to that destination. I did know one thing however, that I felt complete when I was surrounded with that natural beauty and had an instinctual yearning to protect it. When I found the major Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, I had a feeling I had finally figured something out. This adoration of nature and everything it encompasses could actually be a career and a way of life--who knew??

This feeling of being integrated with the natural world has reappeared for me several times during this Study Abroad experience, and it kind of culminated into this moment. The lions paid us no mind as we approached, lazily glancing in our direction then going back to their naps, and then completely ignoring us as they began on their hunt. We drove out following the first lion at a safe distance and then finding an angled place to park where we could watch whatever was about to happen. Racing after the lion felt like we were a part of their pride or even just a part of the ecosystem. Our tour guide, Bruce told us, “be like the leaves” while we were watching them, and honestly, that’s how I felt. While watching the first lion, two more came out of the bushes one by one and ran past us completely unbothered. Being wrapped up in the motions of the day to day activities of these animals was euphoric and almost made me feel a part of their environment.

In our world, sometimes we forget that we actually do play an integral part of the local and foreign landscape. Our conservation helps protect spaces for these creatures to live and our frivolousness creates the need to deforest and destruct.  It’s up to us to decide if we will be helpful or antagonistic.

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Natalie Miller