I have always admired those who have dedicated their lives to wildlife. Louis Leakey’s “girls”: Dianne Fossey, Dr Galdikas, and Jane Goodall, were who I dreamed of being. They, amongst others such as George Adamson, were my heroes as I was growing up.
I devoured all I could about wildlife in general and Africa in particular. It all resonated inside me. And so I went off to Africa in 1984.
How easy it is in todays world, to exchange one life for another. I entered a continent of vast open spaces, I fell in love with East Africa and its huge numbers of wildlife and multiple locations in which to experience the wilds. I have camped in rustic locations in self pitched pup tents with no facilities. I have woken to the sounds of an army marching past, to peer out and find it was the munching of hungry hippos grazing alongside. I have emerged in the dawn light to find elephant prints in the dust alongside, never once having stepped on guy ropes, or disturbing my sleep. I have laughed at monkeys using overhead branches as a springboard to launch themselves at the newly erected tent that became their slide. I have expanded inside with the beauty that I have seen with sunsets, sunrises and times in-between. I have cried with a broken heart when I thought I was leaving Africa forever.
I have travelled more miles than I have ever kept tabs on and eventually, in 1999 I moved to South Africa. A place that grew in my heart as a substitute for the “real” Africa – not quite as wild, not quite as remote, but eventually I found a place that soothed my soul.
In the blink of an eye all that I had been privileged to be part of, especially for the past few years, was left behind, as the new job took us from Africa to Asia.
Our chapter in Africa has ended, again. And I have discovered that it is possible to break your heart more than once.
At the far end of my most recent travels I have emerged into a completely different world. So different it defies comparison. And yet, for now, I keep doing so.
Like a tooth that was there and no longer is, somehow the tongue slides into the gap and probes the tender spot.
In my attempt to retain something of Africa I have toyed with the idea of volunteering at the Johor Bahru Zoo. And so a visit was undertaken, somewhat reluctantly considering we had passed it several times and could smell the place without entering.
Sadly it was everything that zoo’s used to be and in my opinion should no longer be. Small enclosures with single animals -many of whom are social in the wild. Lots of concrete and/or mud. Lots of bad smells and dirty looking water that was the central “lake”.
At 2 ringgit per person to enter (approximately 0.49USD, 6.60ZAR) I was left wondering how it was possible to keep these animals in fodder never mind trying to do anything about modernising their environment. (Of particular concern to me were the horses spotted tethered behind the lion enclosure. I was left wondering if they were the next meal for said lions).
One consolation for me was the attempt at giving some of the animals “occupational therapy”, such as some heavy balls in one of the lion enclosures which one lioness was busy batting around. But overall I was left feeling depressed at the life these animals were leading. I do not know if these are rescued and /or injured animals that are unable to be released into the wild or if they have been purchased specifically for a life of imprisonment and display. The former gives me some comfort, the latter does not.
As the lions began to roar, a nearby chimpanzee who had been begging food from some other visitors, made a beeline to the top of the tallest pole in its enclosure, hugged itself and screamed.
I figured even if they needed volunteers to help out, if I did so I would probably end up mimicking that traumatised chimp.