And it wasn’t my only Jane Goodall moment. Although I love seeing wildlife in abundance—I’ll never forget sitting in my plunge pool at Singita Sasakwa watching herds of animals trek across the Serengeti below—there’s nothing as thrilling as a close encounter.
My first occurred several summers ago on the same safari that ended at Singita. Before scanning the Serengeti, I checked into Greystoke Mahale in western Tanzania.
It’s situated just below the Mahale Mountains on the banks of Lake Tanganyika, a body of water so vast and clear, it could be a tropical ocean. In the forest beyond camp, wild chimpanzees can be seen going about their daily rituals: foraging for food, swinging from tree branches, and fighting over troop hierarchy. Even though the chimps are wild, they tolerate our presence because, like the meerkats near Jack’s, they’ve been observed by zoologists for years. Though scientists spend long stretches of time in their presence, Greystoke guests are only permitted an hour of viewing per day, a treat that’s often hard-earned. Chimps move around during daylight hours, build new nests every night, and sometimes ascend so high into the mountains guests don’t have the time (or inclination) to look for them. But when you finally spot one, an eerie sense of familiarity envelops you… until fear takes over. Chimps aren’t meerkats; you don’t want one touching your head.
I experienced the same awe when I met a semi-wild herd of elephants at Abu Camp in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Like Jack’s and Greystoke, Abu offers animal interaction in addition to luxurious lodgings, but Abu’s story is more complex: It began in the 1990s when an American circus trainer vowed to return previously exploited elephants to their natural habitat. Though he successfully brought three pachyderms to Botswana, and later welcomed a handful of African-born orphans, he put his animals to work as he pioneered Africa’s first elephant-back safari.
Under new ownership since 2004, Abu says it’s planning to phase out elephant rides, and the six current residents now spend most of the day behaving like wild animals in the bush—in fact, one female is thought to be pregnant with a calf sired by a wild bull. Members of the herd are free to leave camp permanently whenever they please.