Skip the Zoo. Go on Safari.

I’ve been spoiled.  After seeing the real deal, the miniature, packaged product has less appeal to me.  I would rather go on a safari than take a trip to the local zoo.

Family of giraffes, Kruger National Park, South Africa

Now, don’t get me wrong. The zoo is a wonderful place. It brings to our urban centers a piece of the natural world many people, especially children, would not have access to. The impact of this awareness is incalculable. As a result, we become more sensitive to environmental issues plaguing various species and the earth itself. Zoos have done for wildlife what Ansel Adams had done for our land.

But zoos also reinforce the false-dichotonomy between something that is “out there,” and somehow “not us.”  In one of my favorite books, Ishmael, Daniel Quinn clearly identifies a false division that says there’s “the environment,” and then there’s “us humans” living in the environment (and somehow not a part of it).

In any event, to see a lion in a cage, or an elephant walking in circles, saddens me.  While they may be unknowingly sacrificing for the good of their respective species by providing awareness to us humans, I sense they know that this is not their natural habitat.  They should be roaming the savanna seeking sustenance and migrating with their prides and herds.

Family of elephants heading into the sunset, Kruger National Park, South Africa (Jason Schlosberg)Photography in a zoo is boring.  Even when animals are kept in cageless areas, it is difficult to get a natural beauty shot.  You are forced to shoot from one location and the habitat is either limited or looks too fake.  While zoo signage points you to the monkey area, you never know what lurks around the corner while on safari.  I get a heightened sense of awe and inspiration when watching animals in the “wild.”  To serendipitously come across a lion, hyena, or kudu is a real treat.  The beauty of the natural surroundings also provides for some exquisite photography.  As a landscape photographer, I tend to shoot the veldt, which may just happen to have some exotic animals in the composition.  Zoos can’t provide these opportunities.  My heart soars in Africa.

Many cite cost as a deterrent to go on safari.  This is certainly a legitimate concern.  However, if possible, I believe each person should make an attempt to go at least once in his or her lifetime.  For those who just have no interest in going, they’re just plain crazy. Don’t relegate it to an ephemeral bucket list.  Throw out the bucket. Live the list.

In addition to South Africa’s Kruger National Park, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of other destinations.  You can go to Masai Mara and the Serengeti to watch the great migrations in Kenya and Tanzania, to the Sossusvlei in Namibia for a desert safari, and to the hidden gems of the lesser explored Gabon wilderness.  Perhaps I will see you out there?  To learn more about Africa’s various safari destinations, here’s a good start.

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