In Entebbe: How to go on an African safari (sort of) at a fraction of the cost.

As I relayed in my last post, I had left the team of volunteers with whom I was working at God Cares’ School in Kampala, for some “R&R” in Entebbe.  They had opted for a pricey safari that involved more strenuous hiking under a sweltering African sun than I cared to subject myself to—especially given my sciatica that had been acting up on this trip.

Do I love wild animals?  You bet.  But I needed a kinder and gentler experience. Besides, if I wanted to see a giraffe loping across the plain, or a lioness sleeping under a Baobab tree, I could watch the Discovery Chanel—for about $2000 less.

Enter the Entebbe Wildlife Sanctuary. For $70 I was treated to an up-close- and-personal experience with a giraffe, a lion, a cheetah, an elephant (with a passing nod to the much maligned hyena) and the most amazing endangered bird I’ve ever seen. Wait until you this guy. (Sneak peek below)

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The images and videos tell the story, so here we go.  The video of my interaction with the giraffe was cool … except for the annoying baby talk (from me, not the giraffe) that for some inexplicable reason I lapsed into—full force.  It was painful to watch.  Anybody else doing this, and it would have warranted a stinging comment on You Tube.  Because of this embarrassing self display,  I’m not sharing it—with anyone. Except maybe with my therapist.

So … here just a few pix of  “Tibia” (?) a male giraffe (my favorite animal) who I was quite taken with.  How can I not?  We have the same coloring, are both spotted (his “freckles” being noticeably more pronounced), and, as my daughter pointed out, we share the same eyelashes.

More meaningful to me was the fact that until last week my Instagram profile pix was of me holding a wooden giraffe in my hand.  Little did I know on the day that photo was taken that a year later I’d actually be feeding a real giraffe out of my hand. I call this my “Pinocchio” dream come true.

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Those eyelashes.  In LA, women pay big bucks to get this look. Speaking of big “bucks” check out the fella at the bottom … he wants in on ‘dem carrots.”
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Me a year before at a fundraiser for God Cares’ School.  Did I know a year later I’d be feeding a real giraffe out of my hand?  Not the slightest clue. 🎶”Fairy tales can come true … they can happen to you, when you’re young at heart.”🎶

Okay, you’re now about to meet my new favorite fine-feathered friend.  His name is “Sushi” and he’s a Shoebill stork. He doesn’t deliver babies, but what he does deliver is striking good looks—including piercing eyes and the loudest “clickety-clack snap-screech”  sound I’ve ever heard. It’s positively prehistoric.

But despite his intimidating vocalizations and large size, this endangered bird is actually quite shy—and very noble.  So noble that it’s required that you bow when entering his presence. This signals to him that you’re a friend not foe. And probably you don’t want to be his foe, for according to the Audubon society, a Shoebill is also the “The Most Terrifying Bird in the World.” (Best not to come to a wildlife sanctuary armed with too much knowledge.)

I gladly obliged on the bowing thing, feeling rather honored that I could encounter such an ancient and very rare bird. (Some claim there are only 300 left in the wild.) Thanks to organizations like The African Bird Club they’ve manged to keep the species from becoming extinct. Yeah, well no thanks to its keeper who encouraged me to “get closer,” I could have become extinct …  I mean, the thing eats crocodiles! Apparently they decapitate them with their beak.

Still Sushi was pretty endearing. Note in the video (below the photo) how cautiously I approach him—not because I’m afraid (okay, maybe just a little), but because I was being respectful.  I think he appreciated it.

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Sushi and I. We have the same expression. Just glad I bear no resemblance to a crocodile.

So, you see I’m  walking like an old lady here … it’s my sciatica. And that’s on pain killers. Without them (they’re available over the counter in Uganda) I wouldn’t have been able to walk at all.

So there you have Sushi the Shoebill.  It makes me look forward to my eternal home where “the lion will lay down with the lamb,” and I can take long walks by the glassy sea with a Shoebill. Maybe even Sushi himself—provided he’s a good bird, (doesn’t consume too many gators) and doesn’t ruffle any feathers.

Next up on my Dr. Doolittle docket was the cheetah.  Fastest cat around and fourth fastest in the entire animal kingdom. After this photo was taken, I climbed on this cat’s back and took off running—with Sushi not far behind.  ($70 goes very far in Uganda.)

Kidding of course, but I did get to pet this handsome fellow. It was slightly risky considering he was a bit miffed at being held back from going outdoors where he could be a true cheetah and run like the wind. (None of these animals are kept in a cage … just temporarily put there for various reasons.)  But he warmed up to me and we had our “moment.” Sweet.

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Marvelous creature. Makes my cat look well … rather boring.

Just two animals left here. How about feeding raw meat to a lion?  Anybody up for that?  I was, though as a precaution, I first checked the fastener on the gate separating me from the king of the jungle. You know, just in case the maintenance guy hadn’t been paid in awhile.  Well, as it turns out, out he must have been shorted a paycheck. The photo of that disturbing encounter will have to wait because … well, it’s a bone-chilling story and I’m not quite ready to share it.

So moving on … to Charles the elephant.  As you can see here, Charles was being a bit naughty with this keeper. But his friend was there to pick up the pieces.  That’s what friends do, right?

Finally, a lovely photo of the Uganda national bird, the Crested Crane.  Runway material all the way.  Coco Chanel would love her.

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So that’s it for the zoological portion of this blog … well, not really.  There’s the “lion incident” (that I’m still recuperating from), and a lot of reptilian antics to regale you coming your way … soon. But one shouldn’t make a single blog post too long, so I’ll bow out gracefully while I can.  Wink, wink.

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