Being in the presence of the beautiful wild animals of the Serengeti was undoubtedly one of the most wonderful, humbling experiences I’ve had the chance to live. But in the midst of the joy, I sometimes felt uneasy. At times, even like a hypocrite. A thought kept popping in my head: do I have the right to be here?
This feeling was strongest when it came to observing lions. Because they are more rare, and because of the place they occupy in the animal kingdom, humans tend to idolize the lion and bestow upon him a stronger sense of uniqueness. Among the herds of zebras and wildebeests, no human really differentiates between one zebra and the other, one wildebeest and the next. But the lion, the lion is a superstar. Seeing dozens of cars line up to closely observe a lioness’s behavior, to capture her every movement without her consent, following her around, invading her space, watching her mate and disrupting her peace (sometimes even ruining her hunting plans by scaring off her potential preys) just made me wonder: how is this any different than a circus? (*Note: attending a circus is not compatible with leading a vegan and cruelty-free lifestyle, as circus animals are held in captivity and experience pain, stress, psychological disorders, and speciesism in general). Sure, the animals here are living in freedom in their natural habitat and are by no means held in captivity, but aren’t we – in a way – observing them for our own entertainment? Aren’t we intruding into their personal space, objectifying them, and asserting our power over them with our voyeuristic attitude? I couldn’t help but imagine what these animals would tell us, if they could communicate with us. Would they tell us to “get off their property”? To stop taking pictures of them without their consent? Are we respecting nature and the animals, by bringing our big cars and their big engines, our big cameras and their big lenses, into these beautiful beings’ habitat?
I would silence these uneasy thoughts by thinking to myself that I had no bad intentions with my presence here. That I am simply observing something beautiful, just like I would observe a tree, the sky, or another human being. Towards the end of the trip, I found myself simply looking at the animals rather than taking their picture. I’m not sure if it was perhaps a subconscious way of creating a more harmonious balance between the animals and myself, a greater sense of equality by simplifying the relationship between human and non-human animal. I did my best to be as silent, as simple, as close to nature as possible. No camera, no pointing, no artifice. Just being there, in nature, in silence. Like the animals.