Its a Zoo after all! Or is it?

To kick off this blog, i want to start by saying, i grew up in a country where we have a number of natural game reserve. We have the  Malolotja Nature Reserve, Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, Hlane Royal National Park, Mbuluzi Game Reserve and the Mkhaya Game Reserve. I dont have a specific game reserve to recommend for anyone to visit in Swaziland but will  wholeheartedly recommend that you visit all of them, because each has its own individual and unique characteristics. But @Jenry Bowen can happily assist you for good game drives in Swaziland.  Seeing animals in enclosed spaces was a bit confusing for me at first. That happened at the Cradle of Life in Baadplaas, Mpumalanga. 

The whole Zoo concept is completely alien to me though i have been to two Zoos. A zoo according to definitions sourced from the internet is a 
an establishment that maintains a collection of wild animals, typically in a park or gardens, for study, conservation, or display to the public. I like the second definition of course which defines it as a situation characterized by confusion and disorder. Back to animals in enclosed spaces shall we?

In 2016, off we went to the Cradle of Life natural park in Baadplass Mpumalanga province of South Africa. It was November and the festive spirit was upon us. I was feeling very generous and i decided to be liberal with my alcohol consumption. It was a two hour drive from Mbabane to Baadplaas and for me, that was long enough to stock on piles of whiskey, vodka and very liberal amounts of Heineken and what have you. I might have to add that alcohol has a tendency of leaving a trail of human destruction behind. Ask anyone the following morning.

The drive from Swaziland to Baadplaas is scenic and very quiet. Man made forests, distant mountains and valleys, sparsely occupied territories as you make your way to Baadplaas. Its all green, nature like and breath taking. We used the Ngwenya border gate guaranteeing a short drive. 

We were booked at the Ndalo hotel conferencing and lodge, a modest hotel with a low-key restaurant, free breakfast & a gym, plus outdoor & indoor pools. We checked in and took a  tour of the lodge to find hidden caves and spots for shenanigans of an evil nature. Not the best but very appropriate for our mission. The breakfast at the lodge was just unimpressive and did not inspire confidence for someone about to go on a game drive. 

Here is where i start to question black folks. On the drive to the game park, we never even asked one question about the animals. Instead of asking  what kind of animals would we see at Cradle of Life and the range of animals, we were busy with God knows what. Upon arrival, we checked in as the group tour as you have to book prior before “boarding”. Below is a picture i took before the game drive and it is mandatory that you carry liquid material for the game drive. The liquid can be anything, you know just to take the edge off. 

All set and ready to sail, we were loaded into a huge lorry. The picture of the lorry is shown below. I took the picture from official website of Cradle of Life. 

The drive was fun and we saw Siberian tigers. The animals we saw included lions, cheetah, Zebras including a PUMA. It was my first time seeing a PUMA and i was impressed. During the whole game drive, i was happy and quite excitable which is very rare. The whole scenery is beautiful and they even have a setting for weddings. I can easily get married there, just need to find a partner. The rangers are very informed and know their stuff. They are walking encyclopedias. I just wondered how they feed the animals. The ranger explained the process and needless to say, someone has to get near the animals in the cages. He reassured us that the animals had been tamed. Yeah right till one day, the animal confuses you for supper. 

On the other end of the spectrum, I recently stumbled upon a DW documentary on YouTube titled Money, happiness and eternal life – Greed (director’s cut). The documentary won the Best Documentary Golden Sun award at the International Environmental Film Festival (FICMA) in Barcelona. During the documentary, there is a part where they show caged monkeys being undertaken some experiment that tries to correlate greed and inequity. The experiment to me was quite strange as it tries to prove what we already know about human beings and greed. Human beings can destroy everything in their path due to greed. I was wondering why keep these animals in a cage and carry on with those completely unnecessary tests? Using animals for serious medical research is one thing, having them in captivity to justify the dubious work or pseudo scientists is another.

Dr. James Borrell argues that captivity is certainly cruel to an extent. But for me it depends greatly on scale, and how well you can replicate the natural environment. It’s a lot harder to make a nice environment for a lion, than it is for a critically endangered crayfish or snail that’s extinct in the wild. He indicates that  some folks go to zoo’s for entertainment, whilst some folks go to learn. But by far the biggest group, is the grey area in between. I easily fall on the grey area. For me, the experience was enriching and i am glad i went to the Cradle of Life and got to experience what other cultures experience on a day to day basis in the wild. Animals can be dangerous but so are humans. If tigers kill people in Asia, does it mean we should not breed or learn about them in enclosed spaces? I am not sure but my opinion is that humans need to adapt to the environment. In the current era of climate change, learning about our habitat is crucial and that includes animals who form part of the ecosystem. 

Where is all the noise from the last paragraph coming from? It comes from the fact that all the CATS in the cradle of life are in enclosed spaces and as you go through the game drive, you will start asking yourself that ethical question. I suggest you go through the motions of the game drive, go home, reflect and then make your own conclusions….

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