Either you go to the zoo or you fly to Africa and go to the zoo there. That’s what I did in Uganda. The Wildlife Education Center in Entebbe has just about every species that runs around in the wilderness outside it. But Entebbe is no prison. The lions, monkeys, elephants and giraffes are here because they became sick or injured in the wild and were brought in to be healed or revived. Their enclosures were huge and designed to emulate the animals’ habitat. I wasn’t so much worried about them as I was about myself because I had chosen to spend a night in one of this zoo’s romantic round huts for human guests. For only 44 euros a night, I could stay just a stone’s throw from roaring big cats. Their enclosure was surrounded by a water-filled ditch and there was also a fence, but I once wrote a book about zoo animals after studying them in Hamburg. There, the ditch around the lions’ enclosure was just as wide as the one in Entebbe, but it was perfectly adequate because although lions can leap six meters, they need enough space to get a running start, and they didn’t have it at the Hamburg zoo. Things were different in Uganda, where the big cats had a good 100 meters in which to get up the speed necessary to leap a ditch three meters wide – and plus, the fence was laughable. Walking through the pitch darkness, my flashlight conjuring up fleeting shadows, yellow eyes and softly treading paws, I was both terrified and excited. Nothing happened, of course. And I was relieved that neither Hemingway nor Tarzan were watching from the bushes. This way, I could emerge a semi-hero.
Our columnist, Helge Timmerberg, an irrepressible globetrotter since 1969, writes travel books and contributes monthly to our magazine.