“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this?” (Job 12:7-9)
The game warden unbolted the padlock, the metal gate swung open, and our group slipped inside the secured area of the Zambian preserve where we were invited to encounter the resident cheetahs. The two males, brothers from the same litter, were rescued and relocated to thrive in this protected sanctuary. After stern warnings, we stroked the soft fur between their ears, patted the cats’ muscular stomachs, heard them purr like contented kittens, and held the fuzzy, squirming tails in our hands. And then, as if this were the most perfectly normal activity to enjoy with animals that sprint at 60mph, we actually held the leash of the fastest 4-legged animals in the world and strolled alongside them. Actually, the cheetahs took us for a walk!
As we continued that day, we noticed the sad eyes of the 37-year-old female elephant in mourning. She had lost her mate, and then her only offspring, two years before. The young elephant had wandered from her mother’s side, mistakenly digested poisonous leaves, and died. Now the matriarch saunters around the compound, tearing off tree limbs and munching on them as if they were salty pretzels, all the while looking as forlorn as any other heartbroken mother. The guides explained that she will mourn for a full four years!
On the safari we bobbed around in an open-air jeep and watched striped bushbucks, massive elands, and kudu with their twisting, spiraled horns leap gracefully across the grass like principle dancers performing on stage. Zebras played in front of us like rowdy teenagers; giraffes chewed on their cud and gazed across the grassy flatland as if contemplating the complexities and absurdities of life.
The brilliant sun projected fireworks of orange and red flares across the Zambian sky, the vivid colors mirrored in the lake in a startling composition no artist could duplicate. We had entered an amazing world of intelligent animals and magnificent beauty. God yanked our hearts wide open and poured in an extra measure of awe for the grandeur around. We can never be the same; we never want to be the same. Not ever!
Elizabeth A. Mitchell