2010-07-29 / Sam Bari

Fond memories of a Canadian/African safari

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand
By Sam Bari

When my son was about five years old, we watched the nature channels on television. We were always fascinated by the documentaries about African photo safaris on the Serengeti plains.

Guides transported their guests in open Range Rovers and tracked animals for miles before they could get close enough to take a picture. Many of the animals were easily spooked. They didn’t trust intruders in their habitat.

Although a visit to the Serengeti was not within our means, I thought a visit to a place called “African Lion Safari” might be a great alternative.

We lived in Canada at the time, and this theme park was about an hour from home. It was a drivethrough zoo, with hundreds of animals from around the world living in their natural habitats.

The situation seemed perfect. The animals were kept captive in an enclosed park so we wouldn’t have to track them for days just to see them run off in the blink of an eye.

When we arrived, many surprises awaited us. Pedestrians, motorcycles, bicycles and convertibles were strictly forbidden. Only fully enclosed vehicles were permitted entry.

The first sign said: “Remove or lower antennas. Close windows and lock all doors. After entering, do not stop. Keep moving.”

I was glad they were cautious, but they seemed overprotective. I wanted to stop and watch the animals.

A gate opened, I pulled my car in, and it closed behind me. Then another gate opened after the first gate closed, so that nothing could get out. I felt as if we were entering a maximum-security prison.

However, as soon as we passed through the inner gate, the scene changed dramatically. Before our eyes were the animals: zebras, giraffes, antelope, impalas, rhinoceros, all herded or gathered in groups to greet us.

They were not spooked or intimidated. My initial instinct said that they looked at us as if they were thinking: “Hmmm...a box lunch on wheels. How convenient.”

We moved slowly until a rhinoceros about the size of Toronto stopped directly in front of us. I’m exaggerating, of course. It was much bigger than Toronto. As soon as we stopped, the other animals came close to the car and peered in the windows. I swear they were licking their chops.

My son and his three friends thought it was the coolest thing in the world.

Then, these large monkeys called mandrills jumped on the car. They have pink butts and long teeth. A couple of them decided to wash my windshield by relieving themselves on it.

I, of course, made the mistake of turning on the windshield wipers and squirting windshield washer fluid on them, which made them testy. They tore the windshield wipers off and used them as drumsticks on my hood.

Once they established a rhythm, several decided to hold fertility rites or make a monkey porn movie in plain view of my son and his friends. They thought the monkeys were hilarious.

Then, one of the mandrills left a large present on my trunk lid, if you catch my drift. Meanwhile, the rhinoceros was not going anywhere, so all the other animals gathered around to watch the monkey show.

If I didn’t know better, I would think that the entire ordeal was a daily ritual – and they just happened to pick my car to be the stage that day.

It was not like life on the Serengeti, where the animals avoided visitors.

These animals loved the gates and fences. We were trapped and couldn’t get away. They could look at us up close and personal as we stared back — horrified. Except, of course, for my son and his friends — they were delighted.

The rhinoceros eventually wandered off. But the mandrills stayed on the car and managed to remove half the chrome trim from the roof and fenders.

When we got to the end of that section of the park, the mandrills jumped off, taking the windshield wipers and chrome, and leaving the presents.

We finally went home with what was left of my car. I was grateful that we weren’t eaten.

My son is now married and has a five-year-old boy. I asked if he remembered that trip to African Lion Safari. All he remembers is that he had a fabulous time.

“I should take my boy,” he said.

I enthusiastically agreed.

Why should he get off easy? It’s his turn to raise his kids in a system we can’t understand.

Return to top