What causes these reactions?
"...they tend to go, literally and figuratively, a bit overboard: nearly tipping over boats for a passing touch; spontaneously breaking into song; crying out in ecstasy; or just flat-out crying..."Meetings with some of the larger animals of the world, that's what. One of those quotes was me talking about some lions I got to be good friends with; another is a friend of mine talking about being with a pair of cheetahs, and the third is Charles Siebert describing people's whale encounters.
"...I completely forgot the world outside the enclosure - it was like being in trance, being one with them..."
"...I can't tell you how beautiful and peaceful it was, how amazing it was to just look at the two of them from so close and lying on the ground next to them, how it changed how I see myself..."
I understand the "crying" reaction. It comes from having something deep inside touched in a way that it may never have been touched before. There is something about being able to commune, one-on-one with the larger animals that we just don't get from the smaller animals in our lives. And I have to wonder why that is.
One word that comes up repeatedly in these encounters is "trust". You look into the guileless penetrating gaze of an animal that can easily do serious harm to you and in an instant you establish a relationship that you know excludes any harm. (Trust is a two-way street, and you have to have no idea of harm in the gaze you give the animal, as well.)
Once mutual trust is established, you are transported into a new world. You are happy to just "be", together. You experience a beauty you hadn't seen before. Holding hands with a lioness, having a tiger hold your fingers in her teeth, hearing the purr of a cheetah are all experiences that touch your soul. You lose track of time, you forget the rest of the world.
As Marc said, describing his visit with the cheetahs,
"These two cheetahs showed neither fear nor reservation toward us. We approached carefully and with respect, but when we started to pet them, they immediately begun purring. Unbelievable. After a while, one cheetah started licking my hand and arm. This was more than I ever could expect, and I enjoyed it so much.I fully understand what he means, even as I feel that to someone who has not experienced this, mere words cannot convey the soul-touching depth of the feelings.
"During our time within the enclosure, I NEVER felt any fear or discomfort (and I'm sure the others did not, too). Right from the beginning, from the first second we entered the enclosure, the atmosphere was completely relaxed. And I am absolutely convinced that the key for this was trust. Trust between us humans and the cheetahs. We tried to show the cheetahs all the respect they deserve.
"For all of us it was an affair of the heart to have a deeper interaction with these animals, and we all were stunned by the extent of the reality of it. I'm sure that the cheetahs felt that we completely trusted them and that we did not intend to harm them in any way, so they trusted us. As for me, I completely forgot the world outside the enclosure - it was like being in trance, being one with these big cats.
"We wished that it would never end. Finally, when leaving the enclosure, Bongo followed us with his eyes - I will never forget his glance. It seems that he too was sad that our meeting was already over.
"I'm still overwhelmed by this experience."
As I said above, for all the love we share with our pets at home, we don't report such moving experiences with them. Why is this? Is it the complete trust you must have to be in such contact with a "top predator"? Is it merely the strangeness of such animals? Is it that we need an animal as big or bigger than us to really connect with them? Is it that we just don't set aside enough quiet time?
I don't know.
I do know the world would be a better place if more people were able to experience such things.