Thursday, February 4, 2010

Last Question: What if we blended in?

Sunnye Dreyfus, South Africa Expedition

Cederberg, World Heritage Site

Blazing sun, broken arm, raging allergies, brightly colored clothing, a bad attitude and inappropriate footwear. I was so not prepared for the Cederberg and the cape leopards she was hiding.

I was dreaming of the ocean surrounded by at least 20 species of shark and schools of juvenile pufferfish. Thankfully, there is no law that regulates the scientific feasibility of dream content. Instead, I was being jostled around cape leopard habitat. No, not leopard seal or leopard shark habitat, but the 4-legged, furry land kind.

Rather than kelp forests, I was shepherded through bone-jarring rocks experienced via foot or 4-wheel drive. I had to hold my arm in the air every time we hit a huge bump in the road (which was all the time for 2 hours). I was sneezing in sets of 7 as the dust & pollen of the Cederberg found a cozy nook in my nasal passages.

The formation to the left of my head is called the "tea kettle" by some.
I think it looks like a turtle.

I was in a car full of strangers and absolutely no idea what I was doing or where I was going. Just looking out the window made me thirsty and I was a fish out of water in my city slicker duds. Self-loathing crept up on me as I thought of all the ocean I was missing because of this stupid cast on my arm. What do cape leopards have to do with anything right now?

Honestly, Sunnye. Really? How very uneducator-like of you.

A beautiful day in the Cederberg...says the leopard.

Looking for cape leopards is really quite fantastic because it gives you a lot of time to reflect and meditate. I was sitting (awkwardly) on a rock (there were many) wondering (as always) how I got there. I was struck by the quiet peacefulness and unwavering patience of those around me. There were six of us with binoculars, telemetry and GPS gear, cameras, camping chairs, coolers, two vehicles, water, backpacks, food, hushed whispers and a ration of hope.
All of this...for a girl.

I never saw her, but I know she saw me. She saw all of us. How could she not?

There she you see her? I didn't think so...
Like so many animals, she is a master of a natural subtlety we call camouflage: the art of blending in. I am sure she was quietly licking her paws, flicking her tail like some spastic metronome, or navigating the rocks like quicksilver. Whatever and wherever, we were not privy.

Photo credit: capestorm, flickr

And humans? Well, we stick out like sore thumbs. We yap, trap, laugh, graph, huff, puff, develop, envelop, dig, rig, mine, whine, drive, dive, fly, cry, screech, bleach, travel, unravel. If it's out there, we do it...and often loudly, quickly and on an enormous scale. And the rest of the animal world goes on and does their best to stay out of our way.

Cape leopards, like sharks, are still mysteries to us and so it is understandably unnerving to hear about our interactions with them. Some farmers, like some fishermen, hunt, exterminate, trap, and/or dispose of these apex predators and send a message in the process:
Stop eating my sheep.
Stop getting caught in my nets.
And most of all, stop threatening me.

So, what if we just blended in?
How would this world be different?
Do you ever try to blend in? How do you do it?
After being a sore thumb for so long, how do we blend in with all of the other digits?
And are we interested in doing so?

We are the shortest finger after all.

Dear South Africa, Thanks for having me. Sincerely, Sunnye

To learn more about cape leopards, check out the Cape Leopard Trust.
To see all of Sunnye's posts from South Africa, click here.

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