03/29/2012 10:56 am ET Updated May 29, 2012

To See the Animals: Our Safari to Tanzania, Part 9, the Last Installment

Day 12: Heading home. We've seen so much, we've been so extraordinarily fortunate. Wildebeest, Marabou stork, lion, leopard and leopard tortoise, African fish eagle, cheetah, leopard, serval, kori bustard (love that name!), rhino, hippo, giraffe... All told, we've seen and identified more than 140 different species of birds, mammals and reptiles. And the babies! Elephants, hippos and giraffes just a few months old; lions just a few weeks old; zebra not more than a couple of days old. The promise Carolyn and I made to each other 25 years ago, to see the animals in Africa together, is a promise that can never really be fulfilled of course, but we have wonderfully scratched its surface. We're happy to go home, we know that we have a lot to go back to, but we're also very much wanting to stay.

I'm sitting on the plane, thinking back to a conversation with one of our Tanzanian guides. Sitting together happily watching unlikely giraffes move about in their unlikely way, the most unlikely but still obviously real animals of our journey, he tells us that these are the national animals of his nation. A man who kills a giraffe, he says, that man will spend his life in prison. We tell him of the giraffes back home, embarrassed to explain it, how they're confined to cages and corrals. He thinks about this and then, perhaps a bit embarrassed himself, he asks if a life in prison would not be equally fitting for the person who so cruelly confines a giraffe. It is a fair question, we say, and the three of us return to watching the animals be the animals they are supposed to be. Whether or not I find them an unlikely animal doesn't matter as the giraffes slowly nip leaves from the top branches with their oddly dexterous lips and tongue, chewing as they stare wide-eyed at us, impossibly tall and gangly animals who somehow combine both grace and clumsiness as they move onto the next tree for the next bite.

Thoreau said, "In wildness is the preservation of the world." I do not know if the world is beyond saving. Certainly the tide has shifted a great deal in that wrong direction since Thoreau's time. Among that which has amazed me during this amazing journey, however, has been getting the chance to see just how much wildness remains. I so hope it is enough.