Director of Conservation & Communications | Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens
It’s been said that travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer. And while some purchases give fleeting joy, the investment in travel grows in profound ways over time. I recently had the honor of hosting another safari to East Africa and experiencing that joyous wonder on the faces of fellow travelers – and mine, too.
The sight of a lone acacia tree silhouetted against the equatorial sunset quiets me. Standing on the rim of Ngorongoro crater, a place I’ve heard stories about since age four, has brought glad tears to my eyes. And day after day on safari, I find myself grinning in appreciation that my waking eyes are blessed to witness the world of my dreams.
Lions surveying endless expanse of their Serengeti kingdom. Endless lines of wildebeest following the rains. Herds of elephants casually plucking grasses. Cheetahs atop termite mounds peering over the plains readying for the chase. Leopards camouflaged in the leaves looking out from their treetop perches. Troops of baboons ambling through the forests. Flocks of flamingos ringing alkaline lakes. Giraffes eating at thorny acacia trees.
Floating over the Maasai Mara in a hot air balloon. Hippos grunting as they spray water above their river homes. Colobus monkeys leaping from branch to branch. And the paradox of the snowy mountain peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya along the equator.
These are now the lifelong memories of the travelers that Naples Zoo COO Doug Rickenbach and I hosted on our safari to Kenya and Tanzania as well as the second departure with Naples Zoo President & CEO Jack Mulvena. Jack shares his motivation for these trips. “An important component of our mission is to increase appreciation for wildlife and wild places. With this in mind, we offer Zoo hosted trips to Africa in partnership with Tauck World Discovery and AAA Travel as a means to provide a much more intimate and immersive experience for small groups of our members, donors, visitors and friends.
MORE THAN NATURE
Having a wildlife career, I easily gravitate to the animals and conservation issues. Yet I have been challenged that the richness of travel is to step outside our normal boundaries and engage in conversation to find new friends with lives both very different and very similar to our own. I’ve had philosophical discussions with my guide on Kilimanjaro, been fascinated by political conversations with a former officer in the Tanzanian army, and was humbled how a former Kenyan soccer player I’ve come to know is using his fame to help teach children a better way of life. Truly, the animals and vistas on safari are only one beautiful branch of Africa’s magnificent tree.
And that tree is huge. I’m sure you’ve met people who treat Africa like a country instead of a continent. The standard Mercator map doesn’t help as it distorts the fact that Africa is larger than the United States, China, India, Western Europe, and several other countries combined – practically speaking that means the beach-goers on St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands were closer to Ebola than I was in East Africa.
And Africa’s people show greater diversity than the land itself speaking about two thousand languages in over 50 countries. Even the genetic diversity among humans on the continent is greater than anywhere else – meaning people from China and Norway are more closely related than some people in Africa are to each other.
That’s also why we take safaris to more than one region. In 2015, we’re offering trips to both East Africa as well as a new itinerary to Zambia, Botswana, and South Africa. While the wildlife will be familiar to me, I look forward to seeing Victoria Falls, hanging out with meerkats, and taking a dugout canoe through the Okavango Delta as just a couple new memories to treasure for a lifetime. You can find out more about both of these safaris at www.napleszoo.org/travel.
If you are able to travel to Africa, it’s an experience that will truly change you whether you’re a nature enthusiast or not. There’s truly something extraordinary about being with these creatures in their native lands and meeting the many peoples who share our wondrous planet.