Friday, March 19, 2010

Peaceable Kingdom in Botswana




DSC03988 Edward Hicks - Peaceable Kingdom
The Peaceable Kingdom, circa 1846, Edward Hicks (1780-1849),
oil on canvas, 25 x 28 1/2 (63.5 x 72.4 cm), Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco


Quaker folk artist, Edwards Hicks (1780-1849), created a series of over 60 paintings called “The Peaceable Kingdom” in which he depicts an animal kingdom where predators and prey lie next to each other in peace.

I always found this to be a compelling image but I never thought I would ever be witness to anything close to this ideal. When I researched our big trip to the Okavango Delta in Botswana, I would run across countless magnificent close-up images of African wildlife, but it was less common to see images of multiple species in the same photo. Once in a while I would run into illustrations that would feature giraffes, wildebeests, and zebras all artfully posed on the same plain and I would judge it to be contrived. The brochures didn't give me a sense of the density and diversity of animals I could expect to see.

Though predators did not exactly lie next to prey, I was surprised to see how many species shared the same space in a peaceful coexistence. I was amazed to see these Burchell's Zebras sloshing in the same waters as the Red Lechwe antelopes...



DSC07550 Burchell's Zebras and Red Lechwes
Burchell's Zebra (Equus quagga burchellii ) and Red Lechwe (Kobus leche leche )


...and grazing alongside a giraffe in front of a staff cabin at Chief's Camp...





DSC09023 Burchell's Zebras and Southern Giraffe
Burchell's Zebra (Equus quagga burchellii) and Southern Giraffe(Giraffa camelopardalis giraffa)


I was astonished when I saw these giraffes quietly nibbling acacia leaves in the same field as this wildebeest...





DSC07627 wildebeest and three giraffes
Southern Giraffe(Giraffa camelopardalis giraffa) and Common Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus)


...and delighted when a herd of impalas joined the gathering:



DSC07611 impala and wildebeest
Impala(Aepyceros melampus) and Common Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus)


I was perfectly content as I lulled myself into thinking that this real-life peaceable kingdom was the status quo. I oohed and aahed when I saw these impressive trees laden with large nests...



DSC08451 Vulture nests in tree




DSC08416 Vulture and nests


...and was captivated as we approached and saw two species of vultures in side-by-side trees:



DSC08461 Hooded Vulture in tree
Hooded Vulture (Necrosyrtes monachus))




DSC08463 Hooded Vulture



Hooded Vulture (Necrosyrtes monachus))





DSC08424 Vulture and nest







DSC08425 White-backed Vulture
White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus))


We cooed when someone in our group noticed that one of the nests was occupied:





DSC08429 White-backed Vulture nest
White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus))


We felt fortunate to stumble upon a lion, even though he was sound asleep...



DSC08419 Lion nap
Lion (Panthera leo))

...and another, in an equal state of stupor:



DSC08437 Lion sleeping
Lion (Panthera leo))


But then I smelled the putrid odor. Why did I not put two and two together? How did I think these carnivores sustained themselves?



DSC08434 Giraffe carcass




DSC08442 giraffe carcass


So much for the peaceable kingdom; lions do not lay next to lamb. Yet, this is the perfect balance of nature. We are in the wild; there are no fences here in the Moremi Game Reserve. Maybe the peaceable kingdom is one that sustains an enduring, stable equilibrium within an ecosystem. I think that is the true wonder we witnessed.

UPDATE: Ruth of Synch-ro-ni-zing shared this perfect poem for this post:
The Heaven of Animals
By James L. Dickey

Here they are. The soft eyes open.
If they have lived in a wood
It is a wood.
If they have lived on plains
It is grass rolling
Under their feet forever.

Having no souls, they have come,
Anyway, beyond their knowing.
Their instincts wholly bloom
And they rise.
The soft eyes open.

To match them, the landscape flowers,
Outdoing, desperately
Outdoing what is required:
The richest wood,
The deepest field.

For some of these,
It could not be the place
It is, without blood.
These hunt, as they have done,
But with claws and teeth grown perfect,

More deadly than they can believe.
They stalk more silently,
And crouch on the limbs of trees,
And their descent
Upon the bright backs of their prey

May take years
In a sovereign floating of joy.
And those that are hunted
Know this as their life,
Their reward: to walk

Under such trees in full knowledge
Of what is in glory above them,
And to feel no fear,
But acceptance, compliance.
Fulfilling themselves without pain

At the cycle’s center,
They tremble, they walk
Under the tree,
They fall, they are torn,
They rise, they walk again.
Thank you, Ruth, you are the best!

I will leave you with the original version of the African song "Mbube", written by Solomon Linda...


... and the version by The Tokens, named "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", that brought the song to fame in America is here.

17 comments:

Kala said...

I would love to go on a photo safari one day!

CC said...

Fascinating photos.
Thanks so much for sharing.

OXO, C

Parag said...

This is the Okavango Delta, some 15000 square kilometres of wetland with a special diversity of fauna and flora.
Okavango Delta Botswana

Susan said...

A wonderful illustration on why we have to let nature take its course. It upsets me that just when the wolf population is finally coming back in the U.S., ranchers are being allowed to slaughter them by the dozens, upsetting the eco-balance once again.

I love your pictures, dutchbaby, even the unsettling ones.

Astrid said...

I am reading and looking your pictures over and over, you must have had a wonderful safari to this beautiful country, I have never been to Africa.
Ik denk dat je ogen te kort kwam om het allemaal in één keer te zien. (is dit te vertalen?)
Beautiful pictures and stories, a nice memeory for ever.

lisaschaos said...

Wow! First, I love the painting, but I also love your adventure! I've never seen the white-backed vulture before. And don't think I've ever seen a lion looking so submissive. Ew on the bones, but I know, nature.

dutchbaby said...

Dear Kala,
I would love to see your photos when you do!

Dear CC,
Thank you, the pleasure is mine.

dutchbaby said...

Dear Parag,
Welcome to dutchbaby and thank you for providing a nice history of the Okavango Delta on your website!

dutchbaby said...

Dear Susan,
I had to have a long argument with myself to decided whether to post these photos. I'm glad you thought they were worthwhile.

Is that true about the wolves? Is there an over-population of them? And are they shooting them from helicopters?

Lieve Astrid,
Thank you for spending time with my Africa photos. I hope you get a chance to go there one day.

Het is waar. Het was echt moeilijk om alles in één keer in te nemen.

dutchbaby said...

Dear lisaschaos,
I've always been fascinated by the image of this painting myself. I never realized that Hicks made so many renditions of it until I did the research for this post. I photographed this one at the De Young Museum; I wish I captured the one I saw at the National Gallery in Washington DC.

Those lions are definitely the kings of the jungle!

Ruth said...

I smiled when I saw the baby vulture, and again when I saw the sleeping lions. And yes, they survive by eating other animals. The photos are terrific, I just love your trip.

Have you ever read James Dickey's poem, The Heaven of Animals?

The Heaven of Animals
By James L. Dickey

Here they are. The soft eyes open.
If they have lived in a wood
It is a wood.
If they have lived on plains
It is grass rolling
Under their feet forever.

Having no souls, they have come,
Anyway, beyond their knowing.
Their instincts wholly bloom
And they rise.
The soft eyes open.

To match them, the landscape flowers,
Outdoing, desperately
Outdoing what is required:
The richest wood,
The deepest field.

For some of these,
It could not be the place
It is, without blood.
These hunt, as they have done,
But with claws and teeth grown perfect,

More deadly than they can believe.
They stalk more silently,
And crouch on the limbs of trees,
And their descent
Upon the bright backs of their prey

May take years
In a sovereign floating of joy.
And those that are hunted
Know this as their life,
Their reward: to walk

Under such trees in full knowledge
Of what is in glory above them,
And to feel no fear,
But acceptance, compliance.
Fulfilling themselves without pain

At the cycle’s center,
They tremble, they walk
Under the tree,
They fall, they are torn,
They rise, they walk again.

A Cuban In London said...

I'm amazed by these photos. And your analysis. An animal is an animal is an animal. Many thanks for such a fantastic post.

Greetings from London.

dutchbaby said...

Dear Ruth,
Thank you for having this perfect poem at your fingertips. What a comfort it is to read. If there is a heaven on earth for animals, the Okavango Delta must be in the top five. As you see, I greedily elevated this poem into the post :)

dutchbaby said...

Dear Cuban,
And animals must do what they do best... Thank you for flying over from London to view these photos.

Gel said...

Amazing photos (as if there is ever anything less here!). Those zebras, and lions... and "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" is one of my favorite songs!
Thanks, yet again, for sharing these, especially for those of us whose experience is only the zoo.

Postcards and Coasters said...

Great pictures... the way the sun is hitting the tree's is amazing. Love the pic of the Lion!

dutchbaby said...

Dear Gel,
Thank you! I was very happy to find th original version of this song. There has been quite a dispute with Disney over royalty rights.

Dear Postcards and Coasters,
I'm so glad you noticed the sun on the trees. It was quite striking.

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