Thursday, January 31, 2013

Deep in the Serengheti . . .

The Maasai call the Serengheti in Swahili, Siringitu - "the place where the land moves on forever." I wish it were so, for its 5,700 square miles seems endless. The diversity of animals is staggering -- we saw thousands of animals: lions, cheetahs, leopards, elephants, giraffes, cape buffalos, hyenas, baboons, gazelles, zebras, and birds of every feather.

Zebras in the Serengheti (Camp 2012)
In the 1960s, illegal poaching nearly decimated the elephants and rhinos in the Serengheti. Ombani, our group leader, standing in front of the nightly fire, wrapped in a characteristic red blanket, argued passionately for sanctions against those countries still illegally buying ivory and rhino tusks. 

Since the 1960s, International support for the park has stabilized animal populations, and, by 1989 a worldwide ban on ivory sales went into effect. But, according to the National Park official website, 40,000 animals are killed by local poachers every year -- for their meat. 

Giraffes in the Serengheti (Camp 2012)
Conflict remains between the interests of tourists who bring much needed dollars into the country, environmentalists who want to protect the park and its animals, and struggling farmers who must feed their families.

While the people we met during our stay in Tanzania were hard working and beautifully optimistic about the future, this African country is among the poorest in all of Africa. Some 75% of her people make their living in rural areas. Drought has cripped both crop productivity and slowed the spread of electricity (Wikipedia points out that 60% of Tanzania's electricity comes from hydro-electric sources). Their economy remains vulnerable and thus affects the Serengheti National Park as well.

I learned that "safari" means journey in Swahili. Some in our group came to Tanzania to see the animals. But we all came away, transformed by the people we met and their love for their country, and with a better understanding of the issues facing this beautiful African country.

Lion at the Serengheti (Wikipedia)

For more information about Serengheti National Park: or at Wikipedia and on Tanzania itself, see


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The lowly Francolin . . .

Francolin, Tarangire National Park, Tanzania
We saw these lovely little birds skittering in the grass nearly everywhere in Tarangire National Park and the Serengheti.

A type of pheasant, these Francolins are groupie birds. They hunt for seeds and small insects together and sleep in the branches of the umbrella thorn acacia trees at night.

At first, I couldn't find any stories about these birds, but if there were a story about this mild little bird, we might learn they are carrying out secret missions or perhaps they're observant guards that fade into the grasses, for they are nearly invisible.

But, perseverance furthers. I did find a story about the lowly Francolin, that bird that cannot fly but can only hop from grassy land to tree.

Scheherazade, that mythical teller of tales for 1,001 nights, tells how a group of tortoises fell in love with a Francolin who visited just as dusk fell. The Francolin would spend the night and, at first light, fly about his own business. Despite the entreaties of the tortoises who loved the Francolin greatly, each dawn the Francolin left. The tortoises were never quite sure the Francolin would return to them, so they devised a plan to keep him close.

Following much debate, the tortoises talked the Francolin into pulling out his wing feathers. After a time, along came a weasel who spied that plump Francolin who could no longer fly. The tortoises could do nothing to save their beloved save mourn his passing. With his last cries, the Francolin forgave the tortoises, saying he should have known better. And so Scheherazade concludes her story at dawn with the death of the Francolin.

As a young girl, I was entranced by the thought that this maiden could tell a fabulous story that lasted all night long. As a writer, I admire her storytelling powers that stopped the story before it was finished, exactly at dawn, thus saving her life for another night. I imagined those words spilling from her, fused by desperation, and so she lived to tell stories yet another day, and another.

You can read Scheherazade's original story of the francolin translated by Richard Burton here: