I had promised the boys we’d make the most of our trip to Maputo to go to Kruger Park, a game reserve in the Transvaal province, South Africa, only about one hundred kilometres away. So after a few days in Maputo we set out from the Polana at around 9 o’clock with a very nice driver, Mr. Fernando.
Mozambicans are talkative so soon we were deep in conversation with him, learning more about what happened in Mozambique during the terrible civil war between Renamo and the Frelimo government that lasted for 15 years.
They also drive quite slowly, so it took us some time to get to the border. Like most Europeans nowadays we are not used to borders, but it was quite quick on both sides and soon we were entering the gates of the Mjejane Game Reserve, where our hotel is located. Some kilometres of a sand road ahead we saw “welcome to Mjejane River Lodge” so we knew we had arrived. It is a very nice lodge with a main hall and several small houses where the rooms are all facing a river where we soon watched a family of elephants take a bath and roll in the mud. What a spectacle! The boys were in wonder, taking tons of photos and filming as well. We were all surprised to see a family of warthogs (the famous “Pumba” of “The Lion King”) in the hotel garden, not worrying about us humans in the least.
Soon it was three pm, time to go on our first safari. We went on a jeep together with our guide and a young, very nice Dutch couple. Two other jeeps came out at the same time but we weren’t always together, meeting occasionally. However, the drivers were always in touch, exchanging information about where the animals could be found.
For some time we only saw a desolate landscape, very dry and with torn trees, that our guide explained are uprooted by elephants because when the branches have no leaves for them to eat they eat the roots!
Then we saw the beautiful silhouette of a giraffe. It’s such an elegant animal. I found it strange that she was alone, and mentioned it to our guide, who explained: ” It’s a female giraffe, and she looks upset; can you see her moving her tail from one side to the other? It’s a sign of stress”. We could see several vultures on a nearby tree and a few others were flying around in circles. This meant there was something on the ground that interested them, but we could not see what.
Our guide – whose nickname was a funny one, Piripiri – had stopped the jeep and by now we were watching the giraffe. She was really distraught, moving forward and then turning back, but she always looked at the same spot. Then our guide said she was like that because her baby had most probably been killed by lions. We looked for some movement in the bush and saw them! At first we glimpsed their legs on the air as they were rolling on their backs, playing. Now we could understand what was happening – the poor giraffe seeing her cub being torn by the lions, not moving away from danger probably because she still believed there might be some salvation, while the vultures knew better and patiently waited for an opportunity to pick at the little giraffe’s remains. As for the lions, a male and a female, they must have been sated, as they didn’t attack the giraffe that was still moving frantically around them.
As the scene unfolded we could clearly feel the pain in the giraffe’s demeanour. She looked lost, in shock as if not believing what had happened to her baby, but above all there was this immense sadness about her, that we could clearly see in her attitude and in the way she looked at her fallen cub. She knew it was too dangerous for her to stay around the lions but still she could not move away. Sometimes she tried but the she turned back, as if impelled by an irresistible attraction. As any mother would if she felt her child was in danger.
I must say I was deeply moved by this scene. I remembered a particularly distressing add on British TV of a few years ago on child abuse. It began by showing several scenes of mother and child in the animal kingdom, with very tender loving scenes. Then it showed a little girl with a black eye, with the following comment: “Next time you call someone an animal, think twice!” At the time I thought it was brilliant and now it came to my mind as I faced a mother giraffe grieving for her baby as a human (or most humans) would.
In the end we moved on and I’ll never know what happened to the mother giraffe. Our guide said the lions would not attack her as they were sated and she would return to her flock. My heartless son Afonso, who has graduated in Agronomics and Animal Production and knows a few things about animals said “Mom, don’t worry, tomorrow she will have no memory of this whatsoever!”
I would like to believe this is so, but as the jeep moved along to our next destination – a lovely spot on a river margin where we watched the hippos by sunset, while having a drink outside the jeeps (how daring, I thought), I could not forget the lost, unhappy look on the giraffe’s face, and thought most mothers are the same, be they animals or humans. We love our children and will protect them against the world. Risking our lives, if need be. Giving it all for the sake of our precious babies, no matter how grown they are. As we drove on in the beautiful pink light of the fading day, I thought that human or giraffe, a mother is a mother, after all.