A LETTER FROM ZAMBIA: CLOSE ENCOUNTERS
These letters were written between 1999 and 2003 to my beloved family as an informative and entertaining discourse of life in Zambia. I am going to reprint this series of letters over the next couple of weeks on my blog at the request of many who have read them in times past. I hope you enjoy them and capture the spirit in which they were written originally. Please feel free to leave a comment. I dedicate this reprint to my family… I love you all.
~ Pastor Tom Cunningham
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS I thought you might find this little adventure entertaining. I took some friends on a game drive through the “Mosi-oa-tunya” Game Park the other day and the animals timed it just right! Just as we got there, they came into the open to be viewed like any self-respecting game park animal would do. Of course some of them made me haggle with their agents to get them to come out of the bush; a promise here, a compromise there, a little coaxing for the camera and then… they stepped out into the open. We saw four Rhinos grazing in the field right next to the main game path we take through the park.
At this point I feel I must warn you. There are NO fences at a game park, no viewing platforms and no animal keepers; I repeat-this is NO zoo. That being said, I will continue with my story. We saw the Rhinos and immediately stopped the vehicle. To no avail, we were hanging out the windows, sitting on the door jam; all in vain trying to get a picture that looked like we are actually close to them, but, they remained a safe distance from the vehicle. Of course all game park animals know how dangerous it is to get too close to a moving vehicle, this they have learned, so it seems, from their weekly safety briefings. So, frustrated and not willing to give up, I asked my wife for the camera and proceeded to get out of the car and a nervous hush fell over the entire park. Just for the record, this is an extreme game park ‘no-no’, but being a Zambian resident at the time — a real African, I ignored their silly rules.
Amidst multiple pleadings and warning cries from the other game-viewing vehicle members, two of us got out of the vehicle and carefully made our way into the field to get a real “Safari-like” close-up view of the Rhinos. I walked within 10 meters of the Rhinos (that’s 30 feet for you and me) that were quietly grazing, not even seeming to notice us. I took several pictures and, satisfied, turned around and walked back to the vehicle. About 2 meters from the vehicle, I heard some rustling weeds as if someone was walking through the brush very clumsily and thought, “What is that?” With that less-than-genius level understanding of my surroundings, I turned nonchalantly and was taken aback to see all four Rhinos in single file following me out of the brush! As I turned, they were RIGHT in front of me. Thank God I had the “stupid American that thinks he’s in a zoo” presence of mind to snap this picture that I attached with this email. They were literally three or four feet behind me, walking so quietly that I didn’t even know they were following me until we were at the edge of the brush. The other people in our group had seen them coming and had smartly rushed back to the car, but I was oblivious to their quandry. After I snapped this picture, I quickly jumped into the vehicle and the Rhinos simply turned peacefully (remembering the game park rules that all animals should stay a safe distance from the vehicles) onto the road and across to the river for a drink.
So, therein is the story behind this evidence and proof of my first “close-encounter” with African White Rhinos. I hear they can move quickly (up to speeds of 40 miles/hour) and could have stomped me into the African sand had they wanted to, resident or not! Of course that would be strictly against game park rules. Thank God they did no such thing. I thought I would share this incredible experience with you which ranks right up there with the time we got a flat tire at the only water hole in the game park at dusk (drinking time) — to be shared at a later date. Take care all of you stateside — and I think of you often.