Tag: Namibia

perception: part one

per·cep·tion
pərˈsepSH(ə)n/
noun
noun: perception; plural noun: perceptions
  • the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses.
    • the state of being or process of becoming aware of something through the senses.
    • a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression.
    • intuitive understanding and insight.
    • PSYCHOLOGY/ZOOLOGY
      the neurophysiological processes, including memory, by which an organism becomes aware of and interprets external stimuli.

 

(For the purposes of this blog post, I am concentrating on the second part of this definition, the mental impressions we have of ourselves and the world around us.)

I have been pondering this term perception for quite some time. It crept into my brain during the elections, most specifically to explain the outcome. I began to realize that it didn’t matter what Hillary Clinton did or did not do, the perception that she did something wrong (or even illegal) was strong enough to stop people from voting for her.

Perception is much different than reality or truth. Perception is based on all sorts of factors, some of which have nothing to do with the truth and everything to do with our backgrounds, our experiences, our morals, our wishes and our desires. It is not quantifiable, nor is it something that can be predicted on an individual level.

There are many ways that perception has been wandering around my thoughts lately. I had actually planned several other posts about it, but I think they will have to wait. This morning there was an image on facebook that hit me squarely in the gut.

The image was of a lion lying dead among the rocks.

Considering how many images flash before my eyes as I scroll through facebook, it is fair to ask, why did this one catch my eye? I don’t have a pet lion, I don’t go to the zoo often enough to get to know the lions personally. I can’t say I have even seen this lion.

Here’s the thing. Tullamore was a part of a (now) rare group of lions. Most of the time we see lions living in the savannah, moving through the grass, showing up around waterholes and hunting the plentiful game. The lions of the west coast of Namibia are desert lions. They live in some of the harshest conditions, little water, little vegetation and little game. They have lived in this area for a very long time and once were pretty plentiful. Then came man. And cows. And other livestock.

In an area that is short on game, it makes sense that a herd of cows would be seen as a gift to a predator. It would also make sense that the owners of the cows would take great offense at having their livelihood eaten by a big cat. Here is where the perception thing comes in.

I am a rich American. I take a trip to Africa, stay in a lodge in the middle of a dessert for three days. I hear about these animals and I see the beauty of them. That is, after all, why I am there. I am a woman from the east coast of the US where there are no predators and I get to stand in front of a cheetah, or a rhinoceros, or to get close enough to practically touch an elephant and it seems like a dream. In the safety of my vehicle or standing beside the tracker with his gun, I am allowed the luxury of “being with” the animals, seeing them walk, run, play and hunt. I come home to watch countless videos of animals in the wild or Planet Earth or read books about how many species are going extinct. I view, from afar, the devastation of man around the world. And I judge. And I grieve. My perception of the death of a lion is based on my need to pet the fox when I was three (my mother nixed that idea quickly). My heartache comes from knowing that “Tullamore” was the last of a group of five male lions in the area (they were called the Five Musketeers). His four compadres were shot or poisoned over the last few years by farmers. I grieve because I met the guy who has has been studying these proud animals, a man who spends much of his life in isolation, and loves it. Unless someone kills an animal.

So what would be my perception if I were a Namibian farmer who does not see any monetary gain and many deficits with the lion population? What if I wanted to send my children to a good school, or build new fences, or dig a new well and a lion started to eat my profits? What if I am of a generation that grew up killing predators without judgement, in fact was rewarded with a pat on the back from my fellow farmers? How would I perceive lions then?

I don’t know. That is the thing about perception. You can’t always tell how you would react if you were in someone else’s shoes. I can only hope to feel compassion for this person. It is tough, it is a stretch for me, at least until I stop feeling so very angry and sad. Until I stop feeling. But right now, my perception of the person who poisoned this lion is that they are not a good person. I don’t know them, I will never meet them, but at this moment I hate them.

I will end by showing three photos. The first two are of cubs in the sand dunes. The last is of Dr. “Flip” Stander monitoring the lions. Despite the setbacks of the last couple of years, he continues to work with the growing population of lions, as well as finding ways of connecting with the surrounding human population. Looking at these pictures makes me smile. Life includes death, even if it doesn’t feel good. But for now, I want to concentrate on the living…

cub3dune2

 

Namibias-desert-lion-Flip-Stander

dscn5541

 

Namibia

I returned from Namibia less than a month ago and I can honestly say I’ve never had a better trip. The country is trying to grow environmental tourism in such a way that everyone benefits. Their goal is to create a win/win for people AND animals, especially predators. It is a long term goal, one that will take a generation to really grow strong, but already there have been some positive stories. Not to mention the fact that the infrastructure construction is booming.

The good news (for me) is that the experience was amazing. There are still large swathes of the country that are uninhabited, mostly because they are uninhabitable. The sand sea of Namib is an immense section of land that has been evolving (and dying) for millions of years.Water is more than scarce, it is practically nonexistent. And yet some lifeforms do exist. The recent drought (how can you have a drought in such a dry country?) have made it even harder for them to survive.

Because of this, my experience in Namibia was much different than many visitors to Africa. There were no plains, there were no huge herds of anything. There was an enormous amount of sand. Each time I encountered an animal it was magical and exciting. (Except for Oryx, there are lots of them. No wonder they are the national animal.)

Here are some things I learned on the trip.

  1. Elephants do actually listen to humans. I found this out when an adolescent elephant began leaning on our vehicle while we were standing looking out the top of it. Instead of turning the truck on and scaring it away, the driver just said calmly “No, don’t do it”. The elephant stopped leaning, thought about it one more time, then walked away.
  2. Watching seals is not fun when there are newborns around. The newborns are not protected and often die by being squashed, especially if the seals get spooked and exit quickly to the water.
  3. I know exactly how big and heavy the horns are forester kudu. I also know how tall kudus are compared to me.
  4. I am a better photographer than I give myself credit for. That being said, there is still room for improvement. (Auto focus does not always know what it is you are trying to focus on. I will not show you the thousand blurry pictures that I took.) I thought I would be out of my league on a photography tour but it was actually extremely helpful and I learned a lot.
  5. There are few actual “wild” places in Africa. Even in the bush, animals are often collared in order to monitor them. Sometimes I felt like I was in what I call a “natural zoo”. In other words, the predators and other animals run free…until they get to the fence. The fact that there are miles in between fences does not take away from the fact that they can’t go wherever they want. The good news is that they are protected from local farmers who have a desire to kill any predator that might take away their livelihood. The bad news is that it creates an unnatural ecosystem that constantly has to be monitored. One place had so many lions that they were regularly catching giraffes. However, if it weren’t for these places, I would never have had the amazing experiences that I had.
  6. Even seasoned trackers get excited when they actually find the animal they are tracking. I will never forget when I heard our tracker say “I got them!” in an excited tone when he found the rhinos.
  7. White rhinos are less persnickety and mean than black rhinos.
  8. Rhino horns are made from the same materials as our fingernails. If you know of anyone taking Chinese herbs that contain rhino horns, shoot them. No, wait, I mean explain to them that by taking those herbs, they are killing off an entire species.

Of course there is tons more stuff I learned but I see your eyes glazing over. So I will move on to the visual part of today’s lecture. Enjoy looking through this group of photos! (If you are viewing this on the WordPress Reader, visit the actual blog site in order to see the slide show. It’s definitely worth it.)