Tag Archives: Wildlife

A Review of Watering Holes

Watering holes are gathering places where the thirst is quenched. They are of many different kinds, frequented by many sorts of patrons. It might be useful for your weekend plans to review some of them (for additional information hover you mouse over the authentic illustrations).

Sometimes these places are truly beautiful, with soothing lightning and all-round peaceful surroundings. You may observe extended families having a nice pit stop. Parents, grandparents, kids, aunties, uncles and cousins are peacefully enjoying refreshments before continuing on their journey.

Sometimes watering holes cater for solo visitors too. These guys are usually in a hurry and just stop for a short drink after the day’s work. At times they may appear nervous, like they’d be expecting an unpleasant patron to enter at any time. So they never linger at their tables for long, it’s usually in and out as fast as possible.

They don’t seem to be aware of the fact that watering holes are usually being monitored to avoid unnecessary trouble. In the more old-fashioned places there are live monitors instead of cameras. The  latter are only brought in by visitors. These monitors usually blend smoothly into the backgrounds and therefore are seldom spotted by the patrons, even the frequent ones.

It may also be that some watering holes appear to be fancy and of high-class, offering perfect surroundings for peaceful refreshments. But the looks may be deceiving. These watering holes are frequented by dangerous patrons, armed to the teeth. And they are almost impossible to spot. An unsuspecting visitor may just drop in to have a drink in the evening, never to be seen again. Needless to say, these watering wholes should be avoided whenever possible.

Other times the visitors at a watering hole may enjoy the dance floor at length, only to discover that someone else is now sitting at their table. Enjoying themselves and watching the show with eagle eyes.

Some evenings a watering hole can be truly popular. Maybe there’s a happy hour at five p.m.? The visitors have to elbow themselves upfront. It’s completely fully booked, standing room only. Unless patrons select to sit on someone else. That’s usually allowed in these situations.

And unfortunately there are always watering holes where some patrons overdo it. They don’t only have a drink, but they literally get mud in their eyes.

But luckily there are still a few watering holes that offer a truly safe and tranquil ambience for everyone’s enjoyment. They mirror life at its best. And they provide serene and peaceful environs with plenty of refreshments.

Hopefully this review was helpful to you in selecting the type of watering hole you may want to visit. Have a great weekend!

My Ostrich Moment

I don’t like conflicts or disagreements. Most of us don’t.  My natural inclination is to be positive and optimistic, always give the other party the benefit of the doubt. So when life throws these negative episodes in my way, my first instinct would be to bury my head in the sand or run away. Much like the poor ostrich has falsely been accused to do when it comes under attack.

This was particularly true when I was younger. Most often I would give in for this instinct, try to walk away or at least look in the other direction. What conflict? I didn’t see anything. And if I didn’t see anything, it wasn’t going to be there anymore. Or so I hoped. But that’s not how it works. Conflicts get worse by time if not dealt with. Life teaches us many lessons and one thing I feel I’ve learned something about is conflict resolution.

I credit much of my initial growth in this area to one specific conflict situation. Just before my thirtieth birthday, I was appointed to my first management job, as the Head of a Division of thirty some people, all considerably older than me. I knew it was a tall order, but believed that I could do it – with a lot of learning along the way. Some of my staff were very enthusiastic and others much less so. I observed this already in my first few days, but gave in to my inclination to look the other way. I was hoping that if I just worked hard and showed them that I was a good leader, things would calm down. I was wrong, I could sense it. So one day in my second or third week on the job, I decided I needed to do something uncharacteristic to me. Not to hide my head in the sand, but instead try to define and understand the problem a group of my most senior staff seemed to have. I needed a higher vantage point. So I invited six of them for lunch.

So when all of us had received our plates, I didn’t resort to small talk, but asked them how they felt about my appointment to this job. I wanted to hear them out. It was like opening the flood gates. They all talked and I listened. I learned they had a deep concern: my appointment to this important job was a disaster for the Division. I was of the wrong gender and by all counts far too young and unexperienced. The only woman ever to hold this job before me had been very experienced, twenty years my senior, and she had failed miserably. And the youngest male who had ever held this job was forty when he started, ten years my senior. They asked me to withdraw from the job so it could be opened for a new search.

Wow! I certainly did not have the odds on my side. My first thought was to run – fast and far. But I didn’t. I decided to acknowledge their fear that I may not succeed. I also understood that they feared for their jobs as this was a time of “right sizing” in the company, many divisions were merged or abolished altogether. I told them that I believed I could succeed, but only if we all pulled together. I had a lot to learn. I also told them that I wanted six months to demonstrate that I was the right person for the job, that my only interest was the success of that division. If I was proven wrong, I would resign at that point. Anyone can survive for six months, so we had a deal.

Almost six months later, my Division held the customary semi-annual retreat to review progress and to plan for the future. Our day-long meeting was set in the beautiful Stockholm archipelago. I opened the meeting but before I even got to the agenda, one of these six people asked if she could say something before we started. She took the floor and told everyone in the Division about our lunch discussion. She told very bluntly and honestly what I had been told and how I had responded. While she was talking I observed amazement on many faces. Then she said that she and the others wanted to apologize to me publicly. And so we lived in harmony, survived as a Division and worked together successfully the next five years.

This conflict was the first one I had tackled head on in the workplace and it taught me many valuable lessons. I have since faced many other conflicts and helped to resolve countless ones. To me, the key ingredients to successfully resolve a conflict, whether in the workplace, in the family or between friends or neighbors, are the following:

  • Acknowledge the conflict as soon as it starts, when it has not yet had the time to grow and fester, and do not brush it under the rug;
  • Try to define the issue objectively, detach from the personalities involved as much as possible. A lot of hurt can be avoided if we are able to be objective and look at the issue and say here it is, this is what it looks like and then ask, with honest intentions to resolve the situation,  how do we find a new way of doing things, a way forward;
  • Listen attentively so that we actually hear the other party;
  • Acknowledge that the problem took its time to develop, so the resolution will also need to take its time;
  • Understand that sometimes only small steps can be taken to start with, instead of trying to resolve all of it in one go; and
  • Understand that particularly when the conflict has been allowed to escalate and bad things have already been said, forgiveness will need to be part of the solution.

I still don’t like conflict, but now I don’t hide or run from it. Once the issues have been resolved, and good intentions to follow through have been demonstrated, harmony and peace usually return in time. What is your experience?

Time Square and the Pink Hippo

Just came back home from a big city urban safari.  A trip loaded with work and all the stresses of the modern world. Although it was good, or what’s commonly called successful, it was nothing like the safaris I’m used to. The big city certainly makes me run faster, speak louder, listen less, and in general adjust to the rapid urban pulse of human achievement.

A big city definitely is a place where people rule.  An urban jungle where the huge buildings provide some shade from the sun and the cars roam the streets. They can certainly kill you if you’re not constantly on your watch. A manmade kingdom with a few implanted, lonely pieces of the nature providing some warmth to the stone filled environments. A few representatives of the animal kingdom can be seen walking the sidewalks, tightly in the leash for their own protection.

On a nature bound safari, whether in the north or in the south, I immediately feel the deep connection with the nature. And I realize that I am a visitor in the nature’s wild kingdom. That is a very special feeling. There is a keen awareness of not being in charge in that environment, but at the same time a deep sentiment of being part of it. A sense of oneness, peace and awe. Such a contrast to the urban jungle and the modern life we are so accustomed with.

At home relaxing after my “urban safari”, I was reminiscing over the safaris we were so fortunate to go on in the past. We always preferred to drive ourselves, whenever possible, and tried to avoid the most “touristy” safari parks in an effort to find some truly genuine wild kingdoms. That of course came with two “givens”: not to disturb the wild, and be prepared to encounter some unscheduled adventures along the way. I hope we minimized the former, but we certainly had our share of the latter. I have already told many stories in my earlier posts but there are countless more…

After my sweaty walks in the big city, I came to think about the most spectacular bath I’ve ever taken. One late afternoon in Ethiopia we were searching for the hot spring we knew would be located in a small oasis in the Awash region, which for the most part was dusty, dry savannah. We were fairly close to the location and could already see the tall trees reaching for the sky, when we came across a group of hyenas.  They were many and some of them were huge. They were probably planning for their evening meal.  Right after that encounter, we found the hot spring. The surroundings were incredibly beautiful with flowers and lots of green vegetation. And the water was warm and crystal clear.

hot springs in awash ethiopia

We were a bit hesitant to jump into the inviting water. Perhaps we would see six hyena heads watching us from the high edge of the spring. But we jumped in anyway, couldn’t resist the opportunity to wash out the day’s dust as we didn’t have any shower at our simple camp grounds. And we were lucky, no hyenas guarding our clothes when we finally climbed up after our refreshing bath and swim in the desert oasis.

The traffic jams in the big city reminded me of another “jam” we came across while driving in a national park in Kenya. We came across a huge herd of water buffaloes crossing our trail. They had the green light, we had the red. There must have been between 150-200 animals. We stopped immediately and very quietly, literally holding our breaths. And tried to be invisible while they passed on all sides of our vehicle, some nudging it. It seems we had stopped a bit on the cross walk.

buffaloes in queen Elizabeth national park in uganda

 

Dining out in the big city also reminded me of another time when we dined out in the wild on one memorable New Year Eve in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. We had several adventures and encounters packed into a single day. First in the morning we spotted a huge male lion. It was quite rare as they tend to move very little in the day time and often get their meal served by the females at night. Then on our afternoon drive we found a small herd of elephants. They were covered by some trees and high grass so we just stopped on the trail and watched them quietly. Somehow the mother sensed our presence. She took a few quick steps in our direction and showed clear signs of dislike by raising her trunk. Having learned from our earlier encounters with elephants, we didn’t need another warning.  It was time to retreat immediately.

elephants in queen elizabeth national park in uganda

When coming back to the lodge, we met the man-eater. A lion who had killed a park ranger a couple of years earlier. She was of course now in the small museum at the lodge for everyone to see, after being hunted down and killed by other rangers. A legend was circulating in the park about the ghost of this man-eater. She had been seen walking along the dirt road to the lodge at night…

After a nice late dinner outside at the lodge, we all decided to celebrate the New Year on our little terrace with the view to the river. We had a bottle of Champagne saved for this occasion. So a few minutes to midnight we walked back to our accommodations in the moon light under the African starry sky.  It was a very beautiful and clear night. Suddenly we hear a sound in the dark. We all stop in our tracks and listen. It was a repeating sound of big feet.  Like something big and heavy walking in the shadows…in our direction. We decided to retreat behind some tall trees next to the path we had been walking on. And past us walks a huge hippo straight towards the main lodge. He had a pink glow in the moonlight…

a hippo in queen elizabeth national park in uganda

Later on when we enjoyed our night on the terrace, he came back to greet us. He obviously liked the grass next to path leading to the river and we could observe him in the moonlight for a good part of an hour. And now he seemed even more pinkish. I can still picture his silhouette against the moonlit river bank. It’s not every day one meets a pink hippo at midnight.

Chasing Queen Elizabeth’s Elephants

Many years ago when we lived in Uganda, we used to go on safaris or other adventures in the nature at least once month. Several of these Friday afternoon drives from Kampala brought us to Queen Elizabeth National Park (please also see my earlier post Elephants and Decisions). This park is located in the Albertine Rift and is the home of a rich variety of wildlife: mammals, reptiles and birds. Among its top attractions is the tree climbing lion, which we spotted once but did not manage to capture on film. It is also marked by several large craters and crater lakes formed after volcanic explosions. It is a wonderful place to visit if you want to be a guest in the wild kingdom. At the Equator in Uganda (2)   This particular Friday afternoon we were traveling with another family in two 4-wheel drive SUVs. On our way to the national park, we stopped at the equator for some pictures and arrived at the main gate just in time before it closed at dusk. Our first encounter with the wild on this trip came while driving from the park’s main gate to Mweya Lodge, where we always stayed. About half a mile before the lodge, we saw a huge lion walking on the gravel road right in front of my truck! She was walking calmly, in no particular hurry to get anywhere. She just walked and walked – and we remained at a respectable distance, until she decided to take a “side street” into the high grass. lion queen elizabeth_tonemapped Early morning the next day we decided to go for a drive we had not done before. We looked at the map and saw that a small trail, marked only by a dotted line, led to a dry crater where we might find elephants. We set off driving and soon found the hardly visible trail leading to the crater. But we had no idea about the adventure waiting for us. The trail went up and up on the side of the crater wall…and then suddenly there was no trail! Just smaller stones mixed with big boulders…how would we drive there and how would we come back down? We couldn’t turn as we were in between big rocks and going forward was clearly a hazard. We quickly realized that we could get stuck right there. With no one knowing where we were and (of course) we had no cell phones at that time. Crater in QE ed_tonemapped So we navigated on up the crater’s side by the help of our spouses who stepped out of the trucks and showed us, truly inch by inch, how and where to drive. We stopped briefly at the top take a few pictures, with no elephants visible in the carter. Needless to say that we were no longer chasing Queen Elizabeth’s elephants.  That would be for the next day. The whole effort was entirely focused on getting us out of there and safely back to the lodge. After a “drive” of about four hours, at less than walking speed, and moving carefully between the boulders, we came down  and found a small trail to follow. Lots of gratitude right there! Our reward came when we approached the lodge. We spotted a young elephant, probably a teen male who had already left his mother’s herd. He was calmly eating from bushes just a stone throw from the lodge entrance and didn’t mind us observing him for quite a while. The next morning when we woke up, we noticed that we’ve had an overnight visitor. All the rubber lining around the windows of our friends’ Nissan Patrol was missing. Eaten up. The lodge staff told us it must have been the young elephant who had been staying close to the lodge for some time. They also told us that the trail we had followed to the carter was not meant for driving…that’s why it was marked on the map by a dotted line. Always something new to learn. On Sunday, we went on a boat trip along the Kazinga Channel and saw many more interesting sights from rare birds to hippos, water buffaloes, birds and crocodiles. The channel is an amazing sanctuary for so many spices of wildlife. I hope you can visit this park some day. If that’s not possible, there are wonderful pictures from the park, including of the tree climbing lion, at the web-site of a National Geographics photographer, Joel Sartore (www.joelsartore.com). In any case, it has been wonderful to relive the memorable adventure we once had. If there is any tiny lesson I learned from this trip, it would be that we need to ensure things are what they seem to be. Because that’s not always the case.

Lions out of Focus

Focus is the central point of attention or activity. Of course there are other meanings for specific areas such as optics, geometry and geology. But in a general sence, we may agree that it’s important to focus on whatever you want to get done. My tiny lesson is on the how we focus on something we want to accomplish.

I learned this lesson many years ago in the early evening hours of a beautiful day in Zambia (there are many lessons I learned in that country, will come back to some of those in future posts). We had embarked on our first safari ever. Not driving ourselves like we used to do later, but actually buying a “package”. That meant flying from Lusaka to Chipata, a small town in eastern Zambia close to the Malawi border, in a small plane with huge windows reaching almost to the floor. And then taking a four-seater to the smallest grassy air strip you can imagine (seen “Out of Africa”, that kind) in Mwufe National Park.

We had arrived at the lodge and gotten settled in our room by five in the afternoon. Having two hours to spear before the camp dinner, we opted for a “sunset drive” in the park. Maybe we would spot some animals, with a bit of good luck even one of the “big five” on our first ever safari night? So we settled in a typical “safari jeep”, you know one that’s completely open and has a couple of seat rows behind the driver, each set a bit higher up than the one in front of it. My husband sat in the front passenger seat on the left with his RCA camcorder (they were huge then!) ready to capture the sights and any wild animals we might encounter. I sat in the next row with our son, who was about three at the time. Our guide drove us around in the park and we saw many different types of antelopes, zebras and water buffaloes. It was very exciting!

About an hour into the drive, our guide told us that before we’d return to the lodge for dinner, he would drive us down to the river to see the sunset. It was spectacular, he said, and there was a good chance we would spot animals who came there to drink in the early evening hours.   A few minutes later we approached the river banks. Already from afar, we could see a huge herd of elephants crossing the river.  My husband rigged his camcorder. Can you picture the long line of elephants against the orange-red sky, moving rhythmically in the shallow water?  The sight was almost magical. They were of all sizes: large adults, youngsters, teens and babies. The babies were hanging onto their mothers while trying to hold their heads over the water. They were adorable. My husband was filming them against the gorgeous sunset. We stopped on the high river bank and the driver left the engine running (we were in the wild).

Just at that moment we spotted 22 (I counted) lionesses! They were laying on the driver’s side of the vehicle, basking themselves in the last rays of the setting sun and strategizing, I imagined, about the upcoming hunt. They were close and very calm.  We watched them breathlessly from the relative safety of our vehicle (and the driver of course had a rifle, just in case). Suddenly my hubby moved. He stepped down onto the ground from the open jeep – to get a better shot of the sunset over the river! He was so focused on filming the herd crossing the river and the huge red ball going down that he had not seen what we saw, the lions. He had also not heard the driver’s whisper warning us about the lions (quiet, don’t move!). His focus was solely on what he wanted to capture. In an instant, he was the easy catch, a free meal, so to speak. I was about to scream, but the driver was faster. In a fraction of a second, or so it felt, and without a word he grabbed my husband’s shoulder and pulled him back into the vehicle. Then he backed out of there, slowly and calmly.

That was a close call. My tiny (my hubby’s big) lesson was on the how we focus on something. It actually matters. We should focus on what needs to get done, but not so narrowly that we lose sight of what is going on around us. Things can change fast.

Lycaon Pictus – The Hunt

I recently prepared some talking points for a seminar on effective teams and while searching my archives for illustrations,  came across notes I had made almost 20 years ago about a remarkable hunt I witnessed in Ethiopia. In all its cruelty (I always feel for the prey), I think this true story offers a few tiny lessons.

It was a really hot afternoon in the Awash National Park, one could feel and see the air vibrating in the heat.  We decided to take a trip down to the Awash river, more to escape the heat at the camp site in the air-conditioned comfort of our truck than expecting to see any animals in the mid afternoon blaze. So much for knowing what the future will bring.

Even before reaching the river, we saw a large herd of impalas grazing peacefully on the dry savannah, not far from the tracks we were traveling. The next thing we observed was a pack of African wild dogs, probably more than 10, in the distance. They stood completely quiet, watching the antelopes, big ears pointing up, listening intently. No one moved. We didn’t either.

The next few minutes were tense, the hunters observing the prey and (I’m sure) making plans, while the impalas yet had to pick up the scent of danger. Then suddenly the hunt started. Watch that speed of the two leading alpha dogs! And the resulting confusion in the impalas herd when all of them instantaneously realized the present danger. They darted away, seemingly in many different directions. The dogs were communicating loudly to coordinate their movements and the dust filled the air. The wild chaos lasted only a few minutes until two adult antelopes were separated from the herd, running far out in the opposite direction. The hunting strategy seemed to work so far.

We drove into the terrain to follow the wild hunt a bit closer. I remember secretly hoping that this would be one of the rare 10-15% of hunts that fail for these wild dogs. For a while it seemed that the two impalas might have a slim chance, but soon it was evident that only one of them would.  The chase was intense and high-speed.  The dogs vocalized their messages to each other all the time, and the coordination of their circling and zigzagging was absolutely fascinating. When the leading dog got tired out, another dog took over. And so it went on for close to an hour, until they got their prey.

I have to say I was very impressed by the collaboration exhibited by these wild dogs, Africa’s best hunters without comparison. In the course of this chase, they communicated continuously, coordinated their actions, helped each other out, and showed extraordinary understanding, commitment and endurance to reach their goal. Maybe something there to learn from.