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Vail Valley Voices: Lessons from Africa

Sal Bommarito
Vail, CO, Colorado

On the Serengeti Plain, life can be brutally violent, and yet the ecosystem is surprisingly efficient and serene.

This regional biosphere is rich with wildlife.

It’s been a great source of enjoyment for thousands of visitors each year, in part because the Tanzanian government has instituted strict laws that mitigate the devastation caused by the most dangerous species of all: man.



The Serengeti consists of 5,700 square miles of territory that belong exclusively to wild animals.

The area is extraordinarily diverse with thousands of different animals, birds, reptiles and insects.



Nevertheless, most visitors are drawn by the lions, cheetahs, elephants, rhinos, hyenas, hippos, giraffes and migratory grazing animals such as zebras, wildebeests and impalas that serve as the principal food source for predators and scavengers alike.

While on holiday in the region this summer, my family and I wallowed in the splendor and natural beauty of this wonderful animal preserve where the destructive influence of man has been minimized.

There’s no evidence of civilization – no restaurants, no vending machines, no toilets on the Serengeti.



It’s stunning how such an underdeveloped part of the world that’s plagued by disease, corruption and despair has the inclination to treat its wildlife with such respect.

Perhaps it’s the millions of tourist

dollars generated by safaris that are the impetus.

I prefer to believe that a deep concern for wildlife is the most important factor.

Our trip took us to Nairobi, Kenya, before and after our time on the Serengeti. The city is overcrowded, polluted, unorganized and dirt poor – pretty much what I expected for an urban African city.

I was later redeemed when we flew from Kenya to Tanzania and began our safari (the Swahili word for long journey).

The confounding question is why the governments of Africa treat wildlife with such affection and, in so many cases, are so disdainful of their people.

I was surprised by all of the rules that govern visitors to the Serengeti. For instance, the preserve that we visited only allows a handful of touring vehicles on the property, enabling the guides to seek out animals deep inside their world without interfering with the natural order.

Ironically, an eerie peace exits between animal and man.

If you follow the rules, stay inside your vehicle and remain quiet, you are able to approach some of the most dangerous predators on earth and take photos without fear of attack.

Since returning from Africa, I’ve considered why the Serengeti Plain is so serene while Nairobi is so chaotic.

Is wildlife more sacred than human life in this part of the world?

Perhaps the reason is that animals kill other animals only to eat, whereas humans often kill one another for political, social and religious reasons. One might ask which group of animals is more

civilized.

I have never really contemplated the importance of the world’s ecological health.

Oh, sure, I’m concerned with global warming, sickened by the Gulf oil leak and frustrated with pollution in my hometown.

But after spending time on the Serengeti, I’ve developed some strong feelings about governmental concern for the environment and its citizens.

Africans have shown respect for their environment in many wildlife preserves throughout the continent, even as some corrupt governments steal money and medicine donated to cure disease.

This corruption has hurt Africans

dearly.

Similarly, America has drifted away from its true mission to be a land of the people and for the people.

Lately, political advantage has dominated our leaders and the will of the people has been subordinated. Instead of caring for the needy here at home, our government is mired in expensive military conflicts and huge bureaucratic initiatives that we can’t afford.

In the meantime, many citizens are not working.

We need to spend less on illegal and immoral military activity. Congress should stop wasting our resources on inane projects, and the federal government should strive to end fraud, overregulation and unproductive bureaucracy.

With the money saved, our country should never let another American starve.

It should allocate the funds necessary to cure all deadly diseases throughout the world.

And it should, at long last, improve our educational system so that every able-bodied person can find a job.

By doing so, America can re-assume its role as leader of the free world and Africa can look to us to improve the lifestyles of its citizens to match the lifestyles of its

animals.

Sal Bommarito is a novelist and frequent visitor to Vail over the past 20 years.


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