Day 2: We start this morning with Carolyn spotting an immense leopard tortoise, one of several species of tortoises native to Tanzania (along with the oddly flat pancake tortoise and the hinge-backed). Maybe I am unduly excited about seeing a leopard tortoise here in a place when I can honestly hope to see real leopards, but this is rather special to me. I've cared for dozens of these animals over the years, neglected and discarded exotic pets I've helped to rescue and recover. This is really part of the hope and the magic of this journey: to see animals where they truly belong; not as trophies on a wall, not as parts of products, not as captives in zoos and homes.
Just prior to this trip, we watched a piece on 60 Minutes about a researcher (can't recall her name) who has spent much of her life living with, studying, admiring, learning about elephants. She talked about the work currently underway to develop a true dictionary of elephants' language, likening this effort to similar but better known projects focused on understanding the language of several primates and marine mammals.
She explained that in addition to those sounds we can hear, elephants also communicate via sub-sonic vocalization: sounds too base or deep for the human ear to hear. But while we cannot hear these sounds, under the right circumstances, close enough to the source, we can feel the elephant "words" vibrating in our bodies.
At one point today we sat quietly in the Land Cruiser, the vehicle's engine off and all of us silent. We were surrounded by hundreds of elephants, there on every side of us. The animals watching us, as closely as we were watching them. And there was that vibration. That thunder, in my chest and in my belly. What was he saying, staring at us, not more than 20 feet away? It is easy to imagine he was saying something about us.
Elephants by the hundreds, cape buffalo by the thousands. Giant animals, everywhere. It is exciting, humbling, magical. In a way I had not anticipated, this all makes me feel a small piece of a so much bigger and impossibly imponderable puzzle. Life, here, is different. Or perhaps the opportunity to visit here will help me see life differently.
We ended this wonderful day with a night drive. The rules require that an armed guard accompany us, sitting with his loaded rifle in the back seat of the vehicle. I know it makes sense. We are of course potential prey among predators, but it just seemed like such a violation.
Regardless, our guide's spotlight brought us many treasures: two large and impressive Verreaux's eagle owls; the extremely beautiful and, I'm told, rarely seen serval. Gerenuk, the guide, explained the Swahili name means half antelope, half giraffe -- apt for this elegant, long-necked and slender gazelle. We even saw two large-spotted genet (marked like cats, with ferret-like bodies, these small carnivores are lithe and lovely). I snapped photos which will not come out, unprepared for photographing at night, but I will never forget any of these animals.
There is water year round here, in a massive swamp quite near our camp, allowing a year round presence of many animals including some 4,000-5,000 non migrating elephant. The swamp also supports what sounds like a million manic frogs, and it is their song which will sing us to sleep tonight, two Maasai guards walking outside out tent carrying their spears to guard us through the night.