On my recent trip to the Masai Mara I was lucky enough to see two crossings. The first was pretty momentous and starred a crocodile the width of a dinner table. As I’m sure you’ve probably guessed he wasn’t there to cheer on the wildebeests.
When we arrived at the at the edge of the Mara River, according to the reports on the radio, the wildebeests had been building at the crossing point for over an hour. The crocodile was motionless on the edge of the river and I quickly forgot about him as soon as the wildebeests made their move an hour later. I was concentrating so hard on photographing the hundreds of wildebeest that had finally pulled the trigger on their two-hour should-we-go-or-should-we-stay-now debate, that I never saw his massive form slip back into the water.
As the crossing whipped into full swing, I’m not sure what caught my attention but I looked to the right. It took a few seconds to register what I was seeing and a couple more to start focusing on it. The croc had found his victim and the struggle was underway.
It was the first kill I would witness and I’d been dreading it. The day before I saw a cheetah leave her cubs under a tree, trot off into the distance and return with a gazelle hanging from her mouth. I didn’t see the actual deed and, surprisingly, when it was upon me I didn’t react the way I expected. I thought I would want to leave. I thought I might cry. But I felt nothing other than a surge of adrenaline as soon as my brain registered what was happening. My heart pounded. I was seeing a kill! A REAL kill. It was all too quick and surreal. It was as if I was watching a documentary of a crocodile drowning a wildebeest. In a strange millisecond of morbid humor I noticed a large hippo watching the carnage only a few feet away. I remember thinking that all he was missing was a bag of popcorn.
As I watched the wildebeest struggle my emotions caught up with me and I told myself to look away. Five seconds later I couldn’t help but look back. Maybe, I thought, the wildebeest would escape. I knew that was ridiculous the second it popped into my brain but I hoped I’d be pleasantly surprised.
I saw nothing except the craziness of the crossing. The croc had slipped below the depths and the wildebeests, as if nothing had happened, were splashing through the water exactly where the duo had gone down.
I saw my first kill.
There would be others during my stay, but this one, my first, was over.