This past weekend, we arrived at Aquila in the afternoon, just in time for a huge buffet, including gourmet cheese, a variety of salads and vegetables, chicken, fish, two mystery desserts and a full tub of custard. During lunch, Zak asked Glenn and I if we could think of any animals that gorged themselves. After listing off a few animals that eat disproportionate amounts of food in disproportionate amounts of time, we all knew where the conversation was headed; over the next 24 hours we would be eating 3 high quality buffets and the odds were high that we would leave each meal absolutely stuffed from “gorging” ourselves.
Following lunch we were divided into five groups of two and one group of three. Challie and Claira, Stephanie and Esther, Zak and Anthony, Jessica and Casey, Glenn and I, and the three muskateers: Margie, Kanyn, and Maddie. Each group had a cabin to themselves. The cabins were amazing. Each one was equipped with ultra-soft bedding, a blanket heater, a fire stove, a huge bath tub and a shower literally under the stars. We were given a couple hours to get comfortable and to put on a couple extra layers of clothing before the evening game ride.
The game drive felt a little bit like being in a Jurassic Park movie. Each of the animals seemed so huge and distinctly foreign compared to looking at pictures of them on Google or seeing them in tight and compact zoos. It is not every day that an American gets to see springboks, wildebeests, elephants, hippos, rhinosaureses, lions, ostriches, and zebras all in one 4 mile drive. Let along is it every day that in that same car ride an American is able to witness an elephant fight, lions mating, a wildebeest answering mother nature’s call, a hippo taking a mud bath and be chased by three stampeding rhinoceroses. To say the least, the drive was beautiful, educational, and unique.
During our drive we learned how to sex various animals, that hippos killed more people in the world than any other animal and that both rhinoceroses and hippos could run up to 24 miles per hour. Also, our tour guide talked briefly about rhino poaching. While looking at the rhinoserouses, he identified the alpha female who is now 27 years old. Two-thirds of her front horn was missing due to a fight that occurred about 3 years ago with a male rhinoceros. According to him, only a few days after the fight, on August 20th, 2011, poachers came to the reserve killing two of Aquila’s rhinos. Rhinoceros horns are made of keratin which sells for approximately $65,000 U.S. dollars per kilogram. Had the poachers not have been interrupted, they would have likely succeeded in cutting the horns off of all 6 rhinos including the alpha female that we saw. Had her horn have not already been broken, she likely would have been one of their first targets, for prior to the fight her horn had been a beautiful length compared to some of the other rhinos. Nevertheless, she was fortunate to have been spared from the attack.
After finishing the evening safari, we came to find buffalo in the way of the gate (photo below). As a result we had to use the alternate gate. One might infer that this sort of obstacle occurs often in a game reserve. Soon after getting out of the safari van, we went inside to devour our second superb buffet. This time the menu was quite similar to lunch but with a few added delicacies: crab cake, cow tongue, and a third delicious mystery dessert. My personal favorite dish was the crab cakes, which dipped in a sweet and spicy sauce were absolutely divine. Following dinner, we went back to our cabins and enjoyed what easily could have been the best night’s sleep of our lives; that is, the night’s sleep would have been in we had not had to wake-up at 6 am for our sunrise safari. Nevertheless, I don’t think any of us would complain. Waking up early has been a force of habit on this trip.
The second safari was mostly the same as the first except with giraffes, cheetahs and leopards added to the experience. I personally found the giraffes the most interesting. Our tour guide explained that they could only keep young giraffes in the reserve due to a lack of trees. Once the giraffes grow too tall for the low-grass vegetation they try to move up into the tall rocky hills. As a result, sometimes they will fall and go into shock paralyzing them. For giraffes this is a serious threat, for should their head be too low for too long, blood can build up in their head leading to coma and/or their head exploding. Unfortunately, he explained, this was how they had lost two of Aquila’s giraffes prior. Further, he explained that that was why giraffes sleep with their heads still up. Maintaining their heads elevation relative to their body is absolutely crucial to their survival at all times of the day.
After finishing the morning safari, we packed up, ate breakfast and checked out of our rooms. Following this we were given a couple of hours to do as we please. I chose to spend the majority of that time with the neighborhood peaock. The beautiful bird seemed to be just as cold as us and was trying to bury itself in Aquila’s garden.
Aquila was truly an amazing experience and as a result I urge people to ask themselves these questions: When you see an animal in a cage at a zoo, do you feel like you are engaging in something even remotely authentic? Would this animal be happier somewhere else such as the wild? And finally, why is it that these animals are scarcely found in the wild now, thus providing a need for zoos?
Buffalo blocking the gate
Elephants on the Game Drive
Sunset in Aquila