Saturday, January 05, 2008

Footloose, but not fancy free


Footloose, but not fancy free

Text and photos by Saowarop Panyacheewin

What's the difference between visiting a zoo and going on safari? Most people would immediately state the obvious: that animals in a zoo are caged while those encountered while on safari are able to roam freely.

Right. But not 100 per cent correct.

A recent visit I paid to Kenya's Lake Nakuru National Park, the world's largest bird sanctuary and home to a hundreds of thousands of flamingos, allows me to give a more complete reply: The difference is that, on safari, it is the visitors who are "caged" (ordered to stay within their vehicle at all times) or otherwise constrained (instructed to keep strictly to designated paths through the wilderness).

And when our guide - Dominic Muia from Wonder of Africa Safaris - shared this perspective with us, he wasn't being ironic; this was no joking matter.

A considerate man, always quick to raise the collapsible roof of our van when it started drizzling, Dominic also acted as our driver. He kept us fascinated with the breadth of his knowledge on the flora and fauna in the park; no matter what plant or animal we pointed at, he was always able supply the necessary information - and much more.

Towards the end of our time together we found out that Dominic holds a degree in ecology and used to work as a researcher in the field of agro-ecology. But when he was laid off he had to find another way to earn a living, even if it meant taking up a job that bore little relevance to his educational background and personal preferences.

In this way Dominic is probably no different from an unemployed person in any country lacking a social-security net: After all, when one's very survival is at stake, one can't afford to be choosey. We were able to sense his feeling of being "caged", of being a casualty of the straitened economic conditions in Kenya at the moment.

But Dominic hasn't yielded to self-pity; for our safari guide is nothing if not a spirited fighter. "That's life," he said with a smile and a shrug.

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