I had a toy hippo. Its body was a very hard plastic shell and it stood about 6cm high. It marched stiffly down slopes on wide flat feet, heel toe heel toe, mouth agape, stumpy teeth gleaming. It was one of the marvels of my tiny life.
There were many animals in the small, battered cardboard case: cheetahs – captivating (though easily misplaced) in their minuteness; a lion whose patchy mane did not reduce his magnificence in my eyes, a solid rhino and others.
One morning my grade one teacher handed out squares of white paper. She assigned everyone in the class (4 – 8 years old) an animal from the pictures hanging on the wall. I stared at my giraffe, high up on the other side of the room. Overwhelming as the task was, it was also rather thrilling. I had been directed to something that, until then, had simply been part of the decor.
African animals: many of us were raised on them. Through happenstance we develop a kinship with particular species. And we gather more, even into adulthood: we see a film featuring a friendly warthog; we receive an elephant calendar for Christmas; we are likened to a meerkat.
We take them into our psyche. They become part of our notion of what the world is and, subtly, they are woven into the fabric of who we are.
They become special (sometimes without us realising the extent). They call us.
We want to see them, to visit ‘our animals’ roaming freely.
And we pay to do so.
The plastic animals have brought the BB and me to Kruger. Our money helps conserve the real animals and support people who are fighting to that end.
The relationship forged through plastic animals renders the experience of seeing the real ones richer and deeper than it would otherwise have been and, in that sublime moment of tenderness, awe and recognition when we sight them in the wild, the memory of that first contact dances at the edges.
Give a child a plastic animal (or a picture or a zoo visit or a movie or…) and give them roots to life.
To be continued.