On Safari: If Africa’s Animals Were Motivational Speakers

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Last Updated on November 24, 2020 by Audrey Scott

A few life lessons we picked up from the animals of Tanzania’s big safari parks: Serengeti, Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro Crater.

Safari in NgoroNgoro Crater
On Safari in Ngorongoro Crater – Tanzania

When we humans observe animals and their behavior, we’re often tempted to anthropomorphize them, ascribing to them our human qualities. The zebra “wears” stripes, the cheetah “eats breakfast” and the warthog “hangs out with his buddies.”

While we were on safari in Tanzania, all those lions, elephants, cheetahs, and hippos prompted us to take this one step further and ask: What could the wild animals of Tanzania teach us about life, and possibly even business?

If all the safari animals were contracted for an motivational speaking conference, here’s who might show up and what they might say.

Warning: Cheetahs feature prominently. We were fortunate to run into them several times in the Serengeti.

10 Lessons Learned on Safari

1. Cheetah brothers: Practice Makes Perfect, Learn from Failure

We were lucky enough to see a pair of cheetah brothers two separate times on our safari — once in the late afternoon as they played and again in the early morning as they searched for food and tracked a herd of gazelles in the distance.

Unfortunately, the cheetahs’ morning approach was too slow and far too obvious for the alert gazelles who'd fled long before the brothers ever had a chance.

Giraffes and Cheetah Brothers in saferi
Cheetah brothers on the hunt, but not a successful one.

Their hunt was a failure. But this is how the less experienced learn: by trying, through practice.

In this case, their hopes are pinned on the next outing. Eventually, they’ll succeed. Their survival depends on it.

For most of us, we can’t expect to succeed without practice and a few moments of failure along the way. Failure happens. What makes the difference to your future: if and how you learn from it.

2. Cheetah mother: It All Begins with Vision

Shortly after watching the cheetah brothers and their failed hunt, we came across a mother – likely theirs — lazing about on the cool ground of early morning.

We watched for a bit and almost lost interest.

Just as we were about to abandon her for something more dramatic, she began to move deliberately. She glided past a herd of gazelles that looked to us like the obvious choice for a kill. Then she bypassed another.

Cheetah Decides Hunting Strategy in safari
Cheetah mother keeps a watchful eye over the scene, strategizing.

What was she thinking?

Little did we know, her vision was to the horizon, something a little less obvious.

This was her strategy for the morning hunt. Only moments later, she amped up her gait. We followed her as she turned her focus to another, much larger herd of gazelles. They began to move quickly, but it was too late.

The mother cheetah moved with stunning speed — the sort you expect from a cheetah — and zeroed in on the slowest moving gazelle of the bunch. In seconds, it was over.

When we left her, she was sitting, panting heavily over her kill. Although she was exhausted, she knew she didn’t have the luxury of time. She had to eat quickly; hyenas and vultures were on their way to take a share.

Three lessons in one. Know what you want. Scan the long horizon. And sometimes you skip the obvious in front of you for a better opportunity.

3. Hippopotamus: Don’t Sh*t Where You Eat

It might sound odd to take life advice from an animal that spends its days in a poop-laden pool of water, but stick with me on this one.

Hippos spend nearly all day in the water in an attempt to stay cool as they digest last night’s dinner. The result: hippopotamus pools fill to the brim with 6000-pound pollution devices farting, pooping and splashing themselves in their own glee. Water churns. (Stomachs do, too.) It’s foul, it’s mesmerizing. It’s stench-laden, almost stifling.

Active Hippopotamus
The filth and stench of a hippo pool.

The hippo pool is a battering, an all-out assault of the senses. It’s not a place where you light a match.

OK, enough of the scatology. The point? The survival of the hippopotamus seems odd given their size and circumstances. Three tons, vegetarian, and a sensitive skin that forces them to spend their daylight hours immersed in foul water and nighttime hours searching for and eating plants.

How have they not become extinct?

When it’s time to eat, the hippopotamus knows to go far, far away from their fetid bathing pools.

Hippopotamus in Serengeti Safari
Out of the water. Now it's time to eat.

Good advice, both literally and figuratively.

4. Elephant: Sometimes Size Matters

No one messes with elephants. They aren’t predators, they aren’t ferocious. They’re just bigger than everyone else.

Elephant Face  Lake Manyara safari
Up close and personal with an elephant in Lake Manyara Park.

This size advantage confers certain benefits.

When you’re bigger than everyone else (either literally or figuratively), aggression isn't required to earn respect.

5. Guinea Fowl: No One is Too Small to Help

When the two cheetah brothers began their hunt, they passed by a rasp of guinea fowl feeding on the ground.

Guinea Fowl Raising Alarm for Cheetah
Guinea fowl – in the background – make a racket to warn other animals of cheetahs

These birds knew they were safe, for they weren’t the cheetahs’ target. Their behavior went beyond themselves and they raised a ruckus to alert the other animals in area of the approaching danger – a calamitous noise that belied their size.

Never underestimate your ability to play a role, to help, or to make a difference.

6. Leopard: Get the View from Above

Leopards spend much of their day perched in trees, which is why they’re among the most difficult animals to spot on safari.

The leopard’s camouflaged aerial position allows him to take in the whole of the landscape, observing all animals and their movements. Best of all, nobody knows he’s up there.

Leopard Walking in Tree - Serengeti safari
Leopard in a tree, taking in the scene from above.

When the leopard has finished his reconnaissance, he comes down from the tree and makes his move based on the intelligence he’s gathered.

Get an overview, gather your intelligence, then act.

7. Hyena: Persistence Pays

Say what you want about the hyena. They don’t look pretty and they always wear hangdog looks as though they’re up to no good, plotting something unsavory. It’s easy to dislike them.

Hyena in Serengeti safari
A persistent hyena in the Serengeti.

However, as our guides tell it, hyenas are successful hunters because of their persistence. They rarely give up and they keep trying until they get what they want.

Sometimes persistence isn’t pretty. But it sure can be effective.

8. Wildebeest: There’s Strength in Numbers

On its own, the wildebeest can be an easy target for big cats like a lion or leopard. Yet one wildebeest in the midst of hundreds or thousands is enough to keep the cats away.

Wildebeest in Ngorongoro Crater
Wildebeest — lots of them — in Ngorongoro Crater

The wildebeest know there’s strength in numbers and value in working together.

9. Cheetah: A Solitary Life Can Be Difficult

Of all the big cats, cheetahs are the most vulnerable – in great part because as adults they are among the most solitary of all animals. Each cheetah relies only on itself for food. This means that if becomes seriously ill or injured (and therefore cannot effectively hunt), it will likely die of starvation. No other cheetahs will be there to share food or to help it recover.

Cheetah Crossing Road - Serengeti safari
A lone cheetah in the Serengeti.

Going it alone has its advantages, but a life without community or support may leave you vulnerable.

10. Lions: Live and Share in Community

Lions, on the other hand, live in communities – called prides – whose numbers can grow to ten or more. In a pride, female lions are responsible for hunting, for male lions are too slow and cumbersome.

In order to take down a big animal (like a buffalo) to feed the pride, lionesses must work together. After a kill, food is shared between members of the pride, each member takes his turn depending upon hierarchy, and injured members of the pride are ultimately taken care of.

A lone cheetah in the Serengeti.
A group of lions share a killed water buffalo.

Who do you want to be? A cheetah or a lion?

11. Vervet Monkey: In Grand Creations, Inject a Sense of Humor

A monkey with blue balls? And they are permanent! Mother Nature absolutely has a sense of humor.

What does this tell us? Perhaps, “Don’t sport blue balls if you are camera shy.”

Blue Balled Monkey
Ther permanently blue-balled vervet monkey. Mother Nature has a sense of humor.

Beyond that, take a cue from Mother Nature. Every so often, a nod to the not-so-serious — even in your magnum opus.

12. Rhinoceros: Generate Demand

After four days on safari, we were missing one animal in Africa’s legendary “Big 5” – the rhinoceros. On our final day, in our final hour, we saw one – elusive, far off in the distance, a dark silhouette almost more mystical than real.

Oohs and aaahs. Cameras clicked away even though our camera lenses captured the animal as a mere smudge.

Rhinoceros in safari
Can you find the rhinoceros in this scene?

Being elusive adds mystery and builds demand.

13. Zebra: From Ordinary to Icon

Add a few stripes and you become an icon. How else can you explain why zebras – in Swahili literally “striped donkeys” — are so prized while their donkey cousins are so under-appreciated?

Zebra Heads - Ngorongoro Crater
Now, how did zebras get their stripes again?

Next time you’re looking for a new designs, consider adding stripes.


Disclosure: Special thanks to our G Adventures tour leader, Moses, and our driver, Emilian, both of whom proved expert on the animals and the layouts of the parks. Our tour to Tanzania is in cooperation with G Adventures as Wanderers in Residence. As always, the opinions expressed here are entirely our own.


The experiences above were from the G Adventures Tanzania Encompassed Tour. If you plan to book this or another tour with G Adventures, please consider starting the process by clicking on the ad below. The price stays the same to you and we earn a small commission. Thank you!

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About Audrey Scott
Audrey Scott is a writer, storyteller, speaker and tourism development consultant. She aims to help turn people's fears into curiosity and connection. She harbors an obsession for artichokes and can bake a devastating pan of brownies. You can keep up with her adventures on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And you can learn more about her on the About Page and on LinkedIn.

29 thoughts on “On Safari: If Africa’s Animals Were Motivational Speakers”

  1. This was an awesome article Audrey! Love the way that animals living normally in their natural habitat have so many lessons to provide us with (that you have uncovered).

    Glad you guys were able to see the Big 5, even though the Rhino was quite a ways away. Can you believe that on all the safaris I’ve been on over the course of about 10 years, I’ve still never seen a leopard!

  2. These are gorgeous photos! This sentence made me LOL:

    “The hippo pool is a battering, an all-out assault of the senses. It’s not a place where you light a match.”

  3. Perhaps it’s time for the cheetah to get health insurance and insurance from disability. 🙂

    Anyway, my point is, these days, the days of the lion (unionization, working together for a common cause) is going away and people are becoming more like the cheetah – independent consultants with no health insurance or benefits. Not everywhere but certainly in the US. In your travels, have you been to countries where individualism isn’t that important but collective survival is more important? Don’t want to start an anthropological debate here or even a political one..:)

  4. Hi Audrey,

    Great life lessons from other animals. (We seem to forget we are animals …) I studied Vervets in college, so I’m ecstatic to see you mention them here. Hope to get to Tanzania just to see them! Zebras – one of my fav animals – outrageous!

    Thx, G.

  5. @Mark: So glad you enjoyed this piece! We were really fortunate to be able to have so much time with so many different animals to have the opportunity to make these observations.

    Coming across the leopard in the tree on our first night in the Serengeti was really lucky. Our guides also told us that they rarely see them in trees, much less on the ground. Hope your next safari yields a leopard sighting!

    @Samuel: We had seen hippo pools from afar, but when we were up close to the one that was just filled with hippos, it was a full on assault to the senses. That sentence sums it up pretty well!

    @Sutapa: Great comment and comparison. You are right, more and more people in the United States are moving towards working as a freelancer or consultant where they are responsible for everything – benefits, insurance, accounting, etc. I think that one of the reasons for this is that the previous “deal” has gone away with this current economy – gone are the days where you would work and be loyal to a company for many, many years in return for the union, insurance, pension.

    But, there are countries where the collective is more important than the individual – Scandinavian countries come to mind, China (although this is changing), some Latin American countries where the importance is on the family and community instead of individual. Will keep thinking…

    @Giuletta: You studied Vervets!! I’m curious – was there anything in specific that you were researching? Any insights to share on them besides the baby blue balls of the males?

    Hope you make it to Tanzania someday soon to see the Zebras…and all the other animals!

  6. The life lesson of the Zebra is that if you’re a donkey and do all the hard work you get no respect but if you’re pretty you get to do virtually nothing and everybody will fall all over themselves to sing your praises. (That doesn’t sound too cynical, does it?) 🙂

  7. Great post! I too was able to watch a pair of cheetahs hunt for lunch. I was in the crater, and I was convinced that I was about to see some real life Animal Planet. My normal peace loving, no harm to man or beast self suddenly disappeared as I found myself ready to see a kill. Fortunately, for the zebras, the cheetahs were just a little too lazy that day.

  8. @Pete: Love your comment! And no, it’s not too cynical. Think it’s rather relevant in today’s world. How to change this in the animal kingdom, but more importantly the human world?

    @Claire: Isn’t it funny how when you see a hunt happening live, all thoughts of the weaker animal somehow go out the window? Seeing something on TV and seeing it in real life are such different experiences.

  9. @Kirk: It’s hard not to laugh – in a good way – when you see those baby blue balls. Glad it made your day!

  10. Such a great idea for an article! That’s what I love about your blog – it’s always full of great insights and you take such a unique angle on life and travel. PS – I totally saw Dan’s doppleganger on a bus here in Guatemala the other day…it was uncanny! if I hadn’t known better, I would have said something 😀

  11. @Megan: When we were on safari, I took notes about the animals and their behaviors. Then the lessons just kind of jumped out at me as I put everything together. Glad you enjoyed them and our different angle on travel!

    So you saw Dan’s doppleganger in Guatemala?? If you run into him again, try to snap a picture of him. I’m curious now!

  12. I LOVE this post! Going on safari in Tanzania is very high on my list, and this post gave me a completely different perspective on what I might experience, thanks for sharing!!

  13. @Jennifer: A safari experience has so many different dimensions to it. Here’s just my take on one of them – glad you enjoyed it! Hope you make it on your Tanzanian safari soon!

  14. I love this post! I would never have thought about watching animals on safari in this way, but you (they?) make some extremely valid points. Great photos, by the way. 🙂

  15. @JoAnna: Thank you! The more we spent time with the animals and the more questions we asked of our knowledgable guides, these lessons sort of jumped out at me. The list began as a kind of joke (esp., don’t shit where you eat), but then realized there were some real lessons there.

  16. hey,

    this is the best thing about ur blog. it is just not about pretty picture of the places u travelled but lessons u learned. The idea per se is interesting.

  17. @Gautami: We look at travel as a great opportunity to learn about ourselves and the world, so we try to share this. Glad you’re enjoying this approach!

    @Matt: Our safari experience really exceeded our expectations – we were really lucky with all that we saw and the knowledge of our guide and driver. Hope you get to see it all for yourself soon!

  18. What a great post. One of the freshest safari posts that I have read in a long time and some very valid insights and tips for humans. 🙂

  19. @Dave: I agree that it does get a bit boring to just put photos up of animals seen on safari so that’s why I wanted to do something a bit different here with these lessons. Glad you enjoyed them!

  20. This is great not only the photography but the write up especially the hippo. Please dont destroy our environment, we depend on it

  21. haha, I loved the lesson you learnt from Hippo 🙂 That’s the least they can do given their size. Excellent post I must say, from now on wards I will also try to get a lesson from animals and birds every time I go on a safari.

  22. @Sachin: When hippos do what they do, the best we can do in response to turn a little humor out of it. Glad you got a laugh out of our Africa safari experience!

  23. The lion reminds me of the African communities always living together and sharing. The difference being its not the father that eats first


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