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A Peaceful Warrior in an African Wild Game Reserve


What is your Power or Spirit Animal?

What is your Power or Spirit Animal? Take just a moment to think about it: what you choose can really say a lot about you. I love all animals, but if I had to pick just one, it would be the highly emotional and loyal elephant, not simply because I love elephants, but because of the gentle, yet fierce, nature they possess. I was on safari in Africa when I learned that elephants will step in as protectors of their fellow animal-friends, and will even face off against a lion, the King of the Jungle. Who knew?!? Let me tell you how it happened.


Photo by Cristal Cook | Thornybush Game Reserve

A Peaceful Warrior in an African Wild Game Reserve

It’s the last night of our safari and my travel companions and I enjoy a relaxing evening at our lodge. Gazing into the glass of my signature cocktail--gin and tonic--I become mesmerized by the dancing bubbles bursting to the surface while reliving the events of the past few days . . .

Our jeep stops on the roadside as a large elephant herd crosses the road towards the watering hole. Clouds of dust burst up with each step as they affectionately touch each other with their trunks. The joyful, bouncy stride of these baby elephants, with flopping ears and springing noses, force a giggle of joy. Snapping photos, I am interrupted by a fierce trumpeting sound from the matriarch. Her status is evident; she is a giant in the midst of giants. Her large, open ears effectively demonstrate her authority as she stares at us with intense eyes filled with wisdom and responsibility. The message is clear: “BACK OFF,” she demands. Excitedly, yet calmly, our guide instructs, “Don’t worry. She’s just warning us,” as he slowly reverses the jeep. Standing her ground until satisfied with our retreat, she lumbers away to join the others.

The happy voices of my traveling companions pull me away from my reverie. “What was your favorite experience?” I ask. “Seeing the wild dogs and their pups,” is the immediate response. African wild dogs are endangered, with less than 5,000 alive today.

Photo by Cristal Cook | Thornybush Game Reserve

The pups are barely old enough for guests to observe. Two adults are lounging in the early morning sunrise, with bulging bellies and crimson, blood-stained faces. Interesting animals--sporting oversized, rounded ears, with mottled colorings of black, brown, yellow and white, and a black mask appearing to cover their eyes, noses and mouths--each dog’s unique blend of color serves as identification for the pack. A group of pups innocently plays while being stalked above by several eagles.“Stop playing,go back into your den; you’re not safe!” I silently urge the pups. A protective adult spots the eagles and the pups are herded into the den, into safety.

More bubbles escape into fizzy bursts while my thoughts travel to the evening safari, mere hours after watching the wild dogs.

It is twilight and the sky becomes a canvas of rich, golden hues layered with rosy peach fading to violet, while the leafless trees transform into sinister silhouettes. There is a chill in the air, and the evening calm turns to panic as a herd of impalas chaotically sprints in all directions. Wild dogs are a cohesive hunting team and methodically separate the slower and weaker of the herd. The coppery-tan impalas with their white bellies and large dark eyes framed by long, enviable eyelashes move with grace and speed. Impalas have a gentle nature, and, always one to cheer for the vulnerable and downtrodden, I find myself emotionally conflicted. “RUN, RUN,” I whisper to the impala, wishing her to escape a fate of bone-crushing teeth ripping through flesh. Then, images of the wild dogs and pups flash through my mind and I am reminded of the significance of each pup’s survival. Covering my eyes, I surrender to a wisdom far superior to my own. The circle of life plays out daily in the wild terrain of South Africa.

Photo by Cristal Cook | Thornybush Game Reserve

Startled, I am torn away from my thoughts and transported to the present moment as our guide urgently commands, “Come quick, you have to see this.” The moon’s glow provides just enough light to make out the scene. Two lions are stalking their prey: large African buffalo drinking at the watering hole. African buffalo are very large, but no match for two lions. As the lions sprint toward them for a deadly ambush, the air becomes electric and bone-chilling. My heart explodes into my throat: nature, the circle of life, and the violence is overwhelming. Suddenly, snapping branches are cracking loudly and the earth is rumbling with stomping hooves as a loud, fierce, trumpeting cry pierces the air. The lions race away from the watering hole into the dark night with a peaceful warrior, the elephant, charging behind. Nature is full of surprises, with unexpected twists and turns, . . . and unsung heroes providing a benevolent balance.



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