Some excerpts from letters than I penned to AK from South Africa:
Safaris are not holidays for those looking for a slow-paced sojourn. I’ve been waking up at 4:30 AM every day for our early morning game drives. There was no time for jet lag! In the span of 6 days, we’ve been to two national parks (Pilanesberg, Kruger) and one private game reserve nestled in a sprawling mountain range with lush green foliage (Bongani). I think I’ve clocked in 50+ hours of safari driving this week. The concept of time seems to cease when you move between time zones (it feels akin to time travel to be consciously aware that the sun doesn’t really go down, it’s just the illusion of the world spinning around).
There is something inherently primal about going on a safari. Aside from the fact that it feels like you’re driving through a computer screensaver, I found myself wondering how it came to be (spiritually, scientifically) that we have so many permutations of how animals exist in the wild. How can creatures in the same environment have such different patterns of existing and living with one another? I suppose the same could be said about humans, but having to intently observe animals for 40+ hours in a concentrated amount of time has led to many questions.
Our ranger on a sunset drive in Kruger told us that elephants are organized in a matriarchal structure. The matriarch reigns supreme. If she sits, they all sit. If she decides to eat marula, they all eat marula. Male elephants tend to roam solo. They often walk about in the wild by themselves and have been known to break cars in the parks due to their temperamental nature. Why are male animals often by themselves more? Are they lonely? Are their temperaments less even because they don’t travel in the communal herd? On average, elephants live for 45-60 years
On the other hand, lions (such dominant and regal creatures) are the living definition of patriarchal pride. Every few years, a younger male lion will fight the presiding male lion for the “alpha” male position. When the presiding male passes or gets pushed out, the new lion essentially “takes over” the lionesses in the pride. 80% of the hunting is done by the lionesses while the male lion gets to pass the sweltering heat under the shade. They only live 12-15 years out in the wild.
Life span of patriarchal organization vs. matriarchal organization seems to be quite dramatic. Perhaps there are some inferences to be made.
Why do we have some animals that are monogamous? Others that mate anew each season? Some that “win” the challenge to have a mate, leaving the others to form a bachelor herd… what are the evolutionary reasons for why there are so many differences? I need to do some reading.
It’s been so delightful to be away from the internet and my laptop/phone. I only wish that we could be even more disconnected. Last night in Bongani, during the ride back home in the open Jeep, I lay down on the seats and looked at Orion’s belt and the explosion of constellations in the sky. When was it that you last looked at the stars? You rarely get to see the twinkle of the night sky in New York, but there has been so much that has been written in the stars throughout the history of humankind.