In November 2020, I took my first masked and shielded flight, from Scandinavia to East Africa, I was headed for "the bush," Randlien Wildlife Management Area of Tanzania. This travel was going to be spent in the company of animals in their natural habitat. I imagined "the big” and "the scary.” You know, the usual unusual; trunks, horns and fierce canines. I never could have guessed an itsy bitsy raptorial critter would show up begging for a selfie. As a result of our unexpected encounter, I came to appreciate the intricacy of biological cycles necessary to hold nature in check, even since dinosaur times.
I began to wonder what gives a particular species an edge over time? Turns out and we all know, life comes down to staying alive, enjoying a good meal and makin’ babies. Obviously, some have really mastered the charade. My little, delicate, somewhat cute friend, seems to have his position in nature rather secured. I mean we are talking about a survival period of over 145 million years. This leads me to conclude; their immune systems are strong and their DNA has not been messed with artificially.
Oops, now I am out on a limb, beyond my own high school biology, (Google for more) level of intelligence. I may have jumped to conclusions way too fast. I will take a moment of silence and pray, that we have not poisoned their systems beyond repair via our mass hysteria of chemical solutions, left to degrade in the air, water and soils.
Nonetheless, this little friend’s diet has remained stable and uber natural with no colors, additives, or preservatives. The buggies he selects from his menu are choices that were offered as "catch of the day” even back when the dinosaurs roamed; crickets, flies, grasshoppers and moths. You’ve got it, yes, a high protein, low-carb meal; preferably of the live-catch-and-eat sort. His mastered style of combat is tried and true; the classic "ambush" attack and no back talk.
Side note: The larger "praying” varieties also enjoy fast food, however, requiring full-course meals like; frogs, lizards, fish and even small rodents.
I lifted him up, so I could whisper in his ears, "Beware, the hunter may also be hunted.” Turns out, this ancient mantid of fond superstition by local folk, is a delectable morsel for birds, spiders and bats. In protective style my "little fighter" friend can blend into his surroundings, so as not to be seen. From dried brown tones in grasses to the black ash color of wildfires, he innately understands mimicry, making him a superstar.
Usually, not too fond of humans, this Jurassic era survivor prefers to be alone both night and day. On this particular day he chose me, or rather the color of my shirt, as a place to cling to like a pendent of good luck. Why is it, I wonder, we humans want to attach our emotions and interpretations to other creatures. Likely, a form of creating connection, understanding and emotional attachment to other living beings. His forelimbs, are anchored in our hearts and minds as posturing a praying position. Well, why not? Seems something is working for his God given design, or is it all the lofty prayers repeated like a mantra throughout time?
He was surely just a baby of the season, thrown to the wind and out doin life on his own since birth. Natural selection will determine his destiny. For the moment he is safe in our company. His miniature size charmed me. I flashed on a fantasy of turning him into a mega-size. Frightening. Then it would be me, praying to God.
Just to remember this encounter, from my days on the savanna, I gave him over onto the thumbnail of my guide. All in perspective and looking austere. Focused and click with my iPhone XR. An image, whisked away and stored in the clouds forever.
Kimberly Hampton Nilsson, June 1, 2021
Thank you for reading.