A Canadian Safari
I conducted my ethnographic experiment at a safari park where visitors can observe and interact with Canadian wildlife. I picked this location because I wanted to document how humans and animals come in contact and affect one another in this setting. My interest in the park was sparked when a friend, whom I will here call “Olivia,” invited me on this trip to experience Canadian wildlife. Olivia and I mainly interacted with the animals from within the confinement of our car, as was to be expected, given the “safari-like” organization of the park. I will mainly refer to human interaction with deer, because of the sheer quantity of them roaming the park.
I wrote my first ethnographic description as a personal narrative that gives an account of what I saw and what I thought of my surroundings as I was observing. Through this, I hope to give the reader a personal understanding of what to me was a foreign experience, and how through this mini journey I came to understand my own stance on wildlife and nature. The personal narrative approach allowed me to write more freely and to experiment with my style. In my second ethnographic description, I write about my observations in a more reflexive manner, focusing on deeper meanings of this human-animal encounter. As I do this—write two ethnographic experiments on the basis of same observations—I hope to gain a new understanding of how different ethnographic voices can radically alter the experience of reading about the same content.
Approaching the gates of the park, I had the instant feeling of nostalgia connected to a childhood cartoon called Yogi Bear, in which talking bears had feuds with park rangers. I was brought back to reality when we approached the ticket booth, and a lady started to talk to us in French. She gave us a brief description of the park handing us two documents: the first being the map of the park, and the second a warning about mating season. This last detail made me instantly excited, being the National Geographic fan I am! The warning told us not to feed the male deer who were identified by their antlers and were known to be aggressive during this season. Once informed of the park rules, we drove into the gift-store parking lot to purchase carrots to feed the animals that were freely roaming the park. One of the rules mentioned was to feed the animals carrots only.
Ready to interact with the animals, we got back into the car and headed down the dirt road that winded around the whole park. Approaching the first location on the map I had to squint my eyes to verify what I saw in front of us. Flanking all side of the car ahead, the deer stood as still as statues. After realizing that the deer in front of us were real, we made a quick decision to use the ‘exit only’ lane to cut ahead. Thankfully, at the time, there were no cars exiting the park. Accessing the situation, we continued to stare at all of the deer surrounding the car in the drive-in lane. In a matter of second,s the deer started to approach us, rubbing their faces against the car, hoping for food. Olivia and I looked at each other in terror, it was a scene out of a zombie apocalypse movie. Except that the deer didn’t want to eat our brains. Olivia, having visited the park as a child, slowly rolled down her window just enough to feed the deer who gladly started to gobble down whole carrots at once. I looked at my window and realizing it was my turn, proceeded to do the same thing. I felt a bit nervous rolling down my window because of the size of the deer. Finally holding a carrot up to the deer’s mouth, it gently crunched on the food I had given it. I sighed in relief, thinking it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.
As we continued on the path, I observed how other cars were interacting with the deer and found myself shocked by some of these interactions. One man we drove past had his full window down, petting this massive male deer that towered over his van like a dog. We saw the same man feeding another deer a whole apple; I thought that can’t be right because the deer had to crane its neck to process the whole fruit in its mouth. Another family allowed the deer to stick its entire head into the car permitting it to get closer to their kids-- what I found odd about this situation particularly was that there weren’t any adults in the back seat monitoring the kids. After a series of long gasp, I realized that I might be the odd one out. I used the rest of the ride trying to figure out my own standpoint on what it meant to be closer to nature, and wheter I actually thought my animal counterparts and I were equal. I spent majority of the ride through the park contemplating my stance on my apparently pseudo-egalitarian views on human-animal relations. I came to the conclusion that everyone has different degrees of comfort when it came to interacting with non-human beings, but that ought not lessen one’s view of a particular form of life.
What makes someone closer to nature? Are we closer to the earth if we are in natural surroundings? How do humans and animal affect each other when they come into contact? After all, we are all animals at the end of the day, we just have different cognitive limits. Journeying through the wildlife-filled landscape, I contemplate what it meant to be one with nature and if one actually has to be physically closer to nature to fulfill this lifestyle. Using my Canadian safari adventure, I consider how such a strange venue as a wildlife park establishes our relationship with animals and how, if in any way, they are affected by us.
A variety of cars can be seen in the parking lot of the gift store. People visiting the part also belong to different demographics. There are some foreigners, but majority of the visitors are parents with their children; it is off season so there are few guests. I wonder what intentions everyone had coming to the park. I certainly didn’t contemplate my own. Do people come to the park with the intention to use animals as a recreational pass time? Or do people come to the safari park to acquaint themselves with what might be their first interactions with wildlife? What might this simple pass time install in the people that visit. An immediate interaction I noticed was the reaction of the deer to our approaching car, why did they stare at us in such stillness? Weren’t they used to the cars that lingered on the dirt pathways? I later realized that the deer stood still to assess the new stimuli that was approaching them. In comparison to the other cars present, we had one of the oldest and noisiest cars in the vicinity. It was good to see that when the deer weren’t familiar with the new stimuli, they displayed, what I imagine to be, the innate behaviour used in their natural habitat.
Another interaction I noticed was feeding behaviours. The deer know that in order to obtain food they have to approach a car. I wondered what their first interaction like this might have been like…Were these deer trained to be less anxious around humans and cars? I relate back to the scenario where a man is petting a deer:
Olivia: Dude, that guy is petting that massive deer!
Me: *looks over in astonishment* Look at its antlers, they’re huge!
Olivia: Bruuhh! He’s petting him like a pet. I bet you he’s trying to take it home.
Just in this interaction alone we see that a lot of the deer’s basic instinct have been transformed to accommodate humans’ needs for a fun pastime. The park rules change in environmental factors placed on the deer; their feeding habits that are limited to carrots can’t possibly be all a deer can and want to eat. The same man proceeds to feed another deer a whole apple:
Olivia: I think that deer’s going to choke … I thought we were only allowed to feed the deer carrots.
Me: It’s working on it though, I’m sure they eat apples in their natural habitat … right?
Normal deer might be able to eat apples in their natural habitat, but I’m not entirely sure about these ones. Could it have been hazardous to feed this these particular deer an apple? At the end of the day all animals are instinctive and should be able to live in their natural environment.
Writing this ethnographic experiment helped me realize which type of an ethnographic voice I feel the most comfortable in. It also made me realize that an ethnographic voice ought to match the content and the personality of the ethnographer. For my second ethnographic description, I specifically wanted to dive deeper into the purpose of the safari park, but I also wanted to include my reflections and the short dialogue exchanged between Olivia and me. I borrowed this strategy from Phillipe Bourgois’ In Search of Respect and Laurence Ralph’s Renegade Dreams: Living through Injury in Gangland Chicago where both authors include anecdotes from their personal field notes. I think it helps capture the mood between the people interacting and brings the audience into the scene. The ethnographies introduced to us in this course helped me realize that there are many different forms of ethnography, and that the voice used is crucial in facilitating what the writer wants to get across to their audience.