Maybe it was down to the Lion King. But it was the warthogs that really captured Molly’s heart.
Yes, those ever-endearing little warthogs, with their tufty hair-dos, skittish capers and comical antennae-tail-up running… My seven-year-old, on her first ever safari, was entranced.
Disney did an amazing job capturing the essences of all the animals of the bush. It might have been an animation, but the movie created a certain level of familiarity, so that our first family safari felt more like a visit to old friends than a foray into the unknown. Add a great guide to the mix and the Africa of Molly’s imagination was brought to life. Seeing the world through a child’s eyes is always enlightening; seeing them react to everything the bush throws up is magical.
On that trip, Molly carried a book of species, which she religiously ticked off. She collected collective nouns: a tower of giraffes, a memory of elephants, a dazzle of zebras (the latter a particular favourite). She was fascinated by the dung beetles pushing poo up hill. She learned how to make fire the Maasai way (using elephant dung) and how to identify animal tracks. She was in absolute awe of the guide, hanging on his every word. She was first up in the morning, first in the pool back at camp, first to toast marshmallows over the fire pit at sundown.
It was such a special trip. So returning to the bush again, nine years later, I wondered: how would the experience match up?
This time there were no tickboxes; perhaps less delight in dung. But Molly had a far larger appreciation of how very lucky we were to be able to experience animals in the wild. Also, our encounters were far more immersive – we spent a couple of hours with the Marsh pride in the Mara North, observing the males posture, the cubs rough and tumble, the females keeping their watchful eyes on it all. Social media was – blissfully – forgotten for a while, its constant doom-scroll usurped by the slow joys of nature. A reminder of how amazing the real world really is.
Molly also had a far greater interest in and concern for the communities living nearby and the challenges they face, from human-wildlife conflict to poaching. She spent time with the sniffer dogs in Loisaba, learning about the role they play in anti-poaching. And she developed deeper relationships with the teams in the camps, keen to hear their stories and enjoying making human connections. The banter between our guide Benson and Molly was fabulous – she learned loads but felt like she was just having fun. And Molly still enjoyed the toasted marshmallows, albeit accompanied with a G&T this time around.
So, we’ve moved on from the Lion King days. But the childlike excitement remained – in us all. There are few experiences as grounding and rewarding as spending time in the bush; doing so with your children by your side is one of life’s greatest privileges.
And yes, those warthogs remain firm favourites.
Family Safari – Tanzania 2013/Kenya 2022