“When I was growing up, the one show I would watch with my dad was the docuseries Wild Kingdom. He got such a kick out of watching lions attacking antelope. And I got a kick out of watching him watching the show. Over the years, I think I saw every animal in the jungles and the plains of South Africa.
So when Kruger National Park came up as a destination for the series I’m hosting and executive-producing, I honestly didn’t see a reason for going. You know, I’d already seen it all. But my frame of mind went from ‘I don’t necessarily want to be here’ to ‘I don’t want to leave’ in just one week. It was kind of magical.
Everything clicked the day that I saw the veterinarian hanging out the open doorway of a chopper with a dart gun, ready to tranquilize an elephant so he could perform medical tests. This is something they do twice a year, and they asked me to take part. Don’t ask me why they wanted a person with a career in comedy to draw blood from an elephant—let alone take a stool sample. But feeling its pulse through a giant vein in its ear is an experience I won’t soon forget.
Later, in my room at Kruger Shalati, I sat gazing out the floor-to-ceiling windows at the marshy rivulets of the Sabie River below, watching an elephant and a hippo grazing in the distance. It was the most serene, comforting vignette, one that made me want to go down and spend an afternoon on a sandbar in a comfy little beach chair. If, of course, it weren’t home to the Big Five. One morning, I saw the largest crocodile I’ve ever seen slithering through the shallow water under the bridge. But the more I saw, the more I felt connected to this corner of the world and to the animals. There was something about the beauty of the landscape and the danger within it—that combo that made me think, Okay, you know what, I get it now.”
Eugene Levy is host of The Reluctant Traveler, airing February 24 on Apple TV+.
This article appeared in the March 2023 issue of Condé Nast Traveler. Subscribe to the magazine here.