What We Learn From Animals While World Schooling

May 28, 2021
Written by:
Crystal Esteves

There are all sorts of educational benefits to learning about animals by handling and playing with them directly, but really, it’s just a lot a fun. We love watching the kids’ faces light up as a whale shark swims by, how they laugh at the monkeys, and overcome their fears to pet a cheetah. Honestly, I really like it too.

One of the most exciting aspects of our traveling is getting to see and learn about different kinds of animals. We have made it a point to have in-depth encounters with animals in their natural habitats, as well as visit animals who have been rescued and/or protected for a variety of different reasons. This month, we want to share some of our encounters with you and what we have learned by getting up close and personal with wild animals.

Everyone is Different

Watching my family interact with animals really teaches me about their personalities, along with their strengths and weaknesses. While they all have a deep love and curiosity about animals, their opinions of how best to interact with them are completely different.

Our youngest, Arabella, is a fearless, take-charge kind of person. We always joke that she is destined for leadership, and our job is to instill as much of a moral compass as possible so she uses her powers for good instead of evil. Either way, the girl is going to be in charge of something. Her personality really comes out when interacting with animals. She gets on a horse and the horse listens to her commands; a dog growls at her and she growls back; and whether a monkey realizes it at first or not, she will convince it to let her hold it, hug it, and smother it with affection. She currently has the life goal of owning a home that is bigger than the Taj Mahal, and filling it like Noah’s Ark. We are working on refining that passion into something a bit more achievable. Perhaps she can learn to be a little more focused on the well-being of the animals, and less focused on the desire to own everything as a pet. However, when it comes to getting what she wants out of an animal, she knows how to do it.

We have joked for years that Robert’s death will come when he tries to pet something that would rather eat him. As fearless as his daughter, Robert has no issue approaching just about any animal. On our safari in Tanzania, there were multiple times we had to convince him that he would be paying more than a fine for getting out of the vehicle. Nothing makes him happier than having a wild animal interact with him. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen his head pop out of the water to tell us an animal touched him. He is always the first person to head out to see the animals and the last person to come back. No matter if it’s a pigeon in the park or a wild baboon, he will have the same wild look of amazement on his face and an overwhelming urge to get out there and interact with them.

Our son, Alejandro, wouldn’t hurt a fly. He once freed the worms his Cub Scout den was going to use for fishing. Every time I see him interact with animals, he seems to have this same gentle approach of letting the animal take the lead. He sits on the ground somewhere near the animal and just waits. More often than not, the animal will decide to come up to him and have some sort of interaction with him. He never runs after an animal or tries to force the interaction. It seems he has a profound respect for them as living creatures entitled to their own free will. He also has the most patience of anyone in the family.

The Safe

We have been in the water with everything from adorable penguins and playful seals, to giant awe-inspiring whale sharks, and we always felt totally safe. We have even had a few little bites and scratches. Whether it was from a green sea turtle in Zanzibar or cheeky monkeys in Mexico, it was all minor and nothing that isn’t to be expected when interacting with nature. We have had, however, a few encounters that will quickly remind you that nature is to be respected.

The Dangerous

One such experience was in Tanzania when we came across a large troop of wild baboons. This kind of thing can happen when hiking in Africa. One might think this would be super fun, but if you ever get only a few feet away from a baboon’s huge, sharp fangs, you will quickly reconsider. It didn’t help that we had food with us, and they wanted it. One of the adult males who was as big as my children, jumped on Arabella as she stepped between him and the food he wanted. My husband tells a much lighter version of this story, but all I could see was a huge beast with huge fangs grabbing my not-huge baby girl.  Aside from that scare, nothing bad happened, but had those animals wanted to hurt us, we would not have stood a chance. We were totally outnumbered and no match for them. Luckily for us, my husband quickly tossed our food as far as he could so they would run after it. A friend with us astonished me with her very quick fight-or-flight reflexes, and within seconds, she had a rock in her hands and was charging at the baboon that had jumped on Arabella. Alejandro climbed a tree in an effort to be safe…from the baboons. He did not exactly think that one through. While all ended well for us, it was a good reminder to respect the strength of nature.

The Fun

Our most recent interaction with animals was the complete opposite of what we experienced with the baboons. Here in South Africa, we headed out into the crazy, cold waters of the southern Atlantic Ocean to go swimming with fur seals. When I say we went swimming with seals, I mean about 5,000 of them. When approaching their island, hundreds of them started running down the rock, jumping into the water, and swimming up to our boat to say hello. I have never seen wild animals so comfortable and excited to see humans, and we didn’t even have food.  As soon as we were in the water, they were swimming up to us and attempting to play games. Imagine 5,000 puppies all wanting your attention! They did big jumps out of the water, and endless flips under the water. They loved to just hang out upside down with their big flipper sticking above the surface, and staring at us under the surface with their surprisingly giant eyes. The only reason we left is that the captain said we had to get back in the boat now or be left to live with the seals forever. I’m pretty sure we all would have been okay with staying forever, if not for the cold water.

You may not have these exact opportunities to interact with animals in the wild, but be sure to take whatever opportunities may arise. There is much to be learned from encountering animals!



More About the Author:

The Esteves family left the states in late February to travel the world full time. Just three weeks later Covid-19 hit and changed everything. They ended up spending 7 months in Mexico having some amazing adventures. Recently they made the jump to Tanzania, Africa where they are living more like locals and less like tourists in an effort to give their kids a more unique and in-depth cultural experience. Share in their adventures as they document both the good times and the fiascos while navigating their way around the world in these uncertain times. Their YouTube channel is Culture Trotters. Get daily photos of their experiences on Instagram @culturetrotters.