Interspecific comparisons in the natural world appeal to me. They aren’t always relevant or in any way appropriate – for instance there’s not much to be gained by comparing the life cycle of an African elephant to that of a three-banded plover – but it is nevertheless important to appreciate how different creatures fit into the grand scheme of things.
I bring this up because of a comparison that was recently made in a discussion with four fellow rangers. By recently I mean about 3 minutes ago, and the four rangers in question are Shaun D’Araujo, Kevin Power, Pete Thorpe and Rob Jeffery, who are seated in seats 59A, B, C and E respectively. I’m in 59D.
We’re in an Airbus A350, flying at Mach 0.85 about 39000ft above the central Indian Ocean, and the differences between this and our usual modes of transport – which are converted Land Rover Defenders that we drive along dusty tracks, at around 20kmh and at 3ft off the ground (maybe 5ft if we’re in pursuit of wild dogs) – could not be more apparent.
The Airbus is a largely aluminium tube with over 250 other people in it (assuming the flight is full, and we suspect it is because we tried to sneak into business class, but they closed the curtain on us p.d.q.), when we’re usually in in an open Land Rover with a maximum of 7 other people (6 guests and a tracker).
Our aircraft cabin is pressurised – rather important for our survival – when usually the only pressure we feel is that of trying to find the leopard all our guests are hoping to see.
The comparative speeds and altitudes of the two means of conveyance I’ve already mentioned, but funnily enough, as far apart as the two are on the modes of transport spectrum, it struck us that there are some marked similarities.
Ok not so much in the actual machines themselves, but in what they can represent in the industry in which we work.
Both Airbuses and Land Rovers represent the excitement of a journey. A journey to safari and the actual journey of safari itself.
In the aerial one you are destination bound. There is anticipation, there is the unknown. What will happen at the other end? Of course people board ’planes for different reasons, but I’m focusing on a flight you take to go on holiday, specifically to a safari destination.
In a Land Rover there’s more of the same. The unknown. What will you see on your game drive? What will that lion pride do next?
Both have their moments of excitement, although watching lions on the hunt is thrilling in a good way, severe turbulence as you hit the Jetstream, not so much.
Both can come with their moments of disappointment, as evidenced by an unsuccessful three-hour leopard tracking effort, at the end of which the spotted cat’s tracks simply melted into the impenetrable reed-thickets of the Sand River, or comparatively the in-flight chicken meal I just opted for over the pasta, which tasted of cardboard.
I blame Kevin for putting this whole Land Rover vs Airbus idea in my head in the first place, but seeing how we five are so thrilled to be in this completely foreign mode of transport together reminded me completely of the look one sees on the faces of first-time visitors to the bush.
There’s a slight sense of awe, mixed in with a bit of disbelief, and ultimately, I know that throughout this aeroplane we’re on, just like throughout Londolozi, there are small groups of individuals who, like us, are not currently concerned with the destination, but are just thrilled to be along for the ride, and will leave what happens to when it happens.
That’s exactly how it should be.