The President On Safari

Out before dawn on an African safari, President Clinton watched a lion play with four cubs under a shade tree. Elephants strolled nonchalantly near the president's open-air touring truck.

"It's been an amazing day," Mr. Clinton said as he and his wife Hillary wrapped up a five-hour excursion, Monday. "We've seen probably 20 or 30 different kinds of birds, fascinating ones, including some eagles I've never seen before and some storks I've never seen before."

Hippos stared at Mr. Clinton from the Chobe River. Baboons scampered in the scrub. A huge herd of cape buffalo with curved horns gathered at a watering hole. One of them had been wounded, its stomach ripped open, apparently by a lion.

"He won't survive, will he?" Mr. Clinton asked. "Probably not," said his guide, Richard Randall.

At another point, vultures lingered around the remains of a kudu apparently killed by a lion. All that was left were the horns and skull of the African antelope.

The safari was Mr. Clinton's first and only break from an otherwise grueling, 12-day tour of Ghana, Uganda, Rwanda, South Africa, Botswana, and Senegal to forge a new partnership with Africa and expand American business investment opportunities.

Sprawling over 4,200 square miles, Chobe National Park is named after the Chobe River on Botswana's northerly border with Nambia. It is one of the last unspoiled wilderness areas in Africa. The Clintons drove along 30 miles of dusty trails in search of wildlife.

The Clintons arrived early Sunday evening at Mowana Safari Lodge, an air-conditioned resort located on the river. The evening buffet features steaks of zebra, crocodile, impala in monkey sauce, and giraffe.

"I tried it all," the president said.

The Clintons headed out at 6 a.m. in a four-wheel drive excursion van. Three Secret Service agents sat on the back bench, and other security forces followed in other trucks.

At the Chobe River, the Clintons saw a hippo raise its head from the crocodile-infested water and snort at them. An eagle watched the scene from atop a tree. The air was filled with bird calls and sounds of the wild.

Botswana is home to 80,000 elephants, and nearly half of them are in Chobe National Park. The president and first lady saw plenty of them. A long-tusked elephant walked slowly by the president's entourage and on toward the water.

When a reporter asked if a Democratic president could admire elephants, the symbol of Republicans, the president joked, "Yes, and I like to see them concentrated here." He added, "Actually I was kind of jealous that the Republicans had appropriated such a nice animal as their symbol. I think they're fascinating."

The president and his wife came here from a three-day state visit to South Africa. Schoolchildren clapping their hands and singing, "This is Botswana, we greet you," welcomed the Clintons. Minutes later, barefot teenage girls and boys danced a greeting in front of a fat, 900-year-old baobab tree at the lodge.

Mr. Clinton will remain here until Tuesday when he will fly to Senegal, the last stop on his African tour.

By Terence Hunt ©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed