Meeting the Simbas, Rafikis, Zazus, Shenzis, Pumbaas, Timons and Mufasas of the Moremi Game Reserve is a surreal experience if you are a New Yorker, or Scot on your first safari experience. Staff Writer THALEFANG CHARLES discovered the power and influence of the Lion King film during his recent safari in the Okavango Delta
We left Camp Moremi, near the popular Xakanaka Lagoon in the Moremi Game Reserve and our guide, Wise Tepo, asked everyone in the game drive vehicle, “What are you interested to see?” There was a youthful couple from New York who told us that they have taken a year’s long vacation from the Concrete Jungle and are on a Round The World (RTW) honeymoon. They wanted to see mainly cats.
I seconded that with a loud, “Cats please, thank you!”. Another couple, Scottish and elderly, armed with binoculars wanted to see birds and cats. I voted for that as well. Birds are my new found interest. “Ever since I started travelling through the Okavango Delta on a mokoro with researchers with doctorates on birds, I have developed a keen interest in them. “I have bought books about birds and together with a kind gift of binoculars that I received from a good friend, I am appreciating birds more than ever. Our guide, Tepo told us that he loved birds too. Fellow journalist, Bright Kholi said he was “fine with everything”. The road started bumpy; Botswana guides call it the ‘African massage’. Before long, we saw two yellow-billed hornbills. Tepo stopped and switched off the engine for us to enjoy the sound and sight. The Scots exchanged the binoculars and the woman said, “Two Zazus”.
I had no clue what ‘zazus’ is and in my mind I just thought it was probably their vernacular name for the hornbill. Later on in the drive, we came across five warthogs grazing beautifully with their knees on the ground and running around with their tails sharply raised up like some signal aerials and the Scots again after exchanging their binoculars said, “Pumbaa”. That was when the Lion King movie came to mind. The Lion King is a 1994 American animated epic musical film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation and released by Walt Disney Pictures.
Pumbaa (warthog) appears in the movie with Timon (meerkat) as the charming duo that shooed away the vultures that swarmed around young Simba, who had collapsed from heat exhaustion after running away thinking that he is responsible for his father’s (Mufasa)
So all along during our game drive in the Moremi Game Reserve from Xakanaka lagoon to First Bridge, the Scots were reliving the Lion King movie. It became clear later on when we stopped for the four yellow-billed hornbills that were really close to our vehicle.
The Scottish woman excitedly said, “Four Zazus”. It was then that our guide Tepo finally took the poor Scots out of the movie. “Those birds are not really called Zazus. Zazu is only a character in the movie Lion King. These are the yellow-billed hornbills,” said the guide.
We all laughed at the obvious explanation, but Tepo went on to say that many western tourists on their first safari experience usually call the animals with their Lion King characters. He reported that even after more than two decades of Lion King, the movie commands a huge influence during the safari drives. Tepo said lions are still called Simba and Mufasa. So when we spotted our first lion that day, which had small a cub, the Scots must have been thinking about Simba, Nala and Sarabi.
The woman from New York who said she had been to Botswana while a child also told how the Lion King movie influenced her safari experience. She said that throughout her childhood, they have always hated the hyenas because of their savagery in the movie. To them all hyenas were like Shenzi. Shenzi (which apparently means ‘savage’ in Swahili) is the leader and female of the pack of three (Shenzi, Banzai and Ed) savage spotted hyenas in the Lion King. Although our game drive failed to yield a grand sighting of a big male lion, as the New Yorkers had wished, despite stretching the breadth of Moremi Game Reserve from Xakanaka’s Paradise Island all the way to First Bridge, we all enjoyed the experience of bringing the Lion King out of the screen into life.
* Thalefang Charles was guest of Desert & Delta Safaris