The Great Escape

Near the end of the long, winding path that led from our mobile camp to one of the many dirt roads that criss-cross the Mara Triangle, was a wide bend in the mighty Mara River. There we had the benefit of seeing both sides of the river at once; a perfect spot to photograph thirsty wildlife, and on one afternoon, the scene or a harrowing escape.

A view of zebra on the bank of the Mara River in Kenya

Anxious zebra cautiously drink from the Mara River doing their best to avoid a crocodile attack.

It was after lunch and the second game drive of the day. We were on our way to meet up with members of our group that had opted to not to eat in lieu of watching  a herd of zebra drink at the bend. Why you ask?

Two very large crocodiles. And when I say large, I mean 12ft long at least.

Safari 101: A hot day + thirsty zebra + hungry crocodiles = drama waiting to happen. It’s just a matter of time. So far, the gang had waited nearly two hours. (I was glad I ate lunch.)

Together, we watched the herd walk down a natural ramp of  hoove-beaten dirt and rock to the water’s edge, sniff the surface, then tentatively stick their muzzles into the wet.  Skittish to the extreme, the slightest noise or ripple of the river would send them stampeding up the hill as if being chased by a lion. They’d wait a few minutes, scan the water and try it again. Rinse, repeat.

Zebra drinks at the edge of the Mara River in Kenya

A brazen young zebra doesn’t seem to care about the possibility of crocodiles

The crocs were all nonchalance. They’d float near the herd and freak them out, or swim a up stream as if they didn’t care—only to return. Taunting the zebras with their large, sharp teeth.

On the opposite side of the river from the herd, two new zebras appeared, walking out of the trees and down to the shoreline.

Without the trademark hesitancy, the first zebra was all business. He marched up to the water began drinking. The second zebra, we’ll call him Tristan, dutifully followed behind. I held my breath.

We saw the duo eye the herd across from them, raising their noses into the air, hoping to catch a scent.

Then it hit me. Those stupid zebras were going to try and cross.

Zebra escaping from a crocodile in the Mara River, Kenya

Tristan is struck by a crocodile beneath the water

OY.. that wasn’t good.

Inside our jeep the whereabouts of the two crocodiles became of paramount importance.

“Do you see the crocs?” asked my jeep-mate Nancy.

“Nope, can’t see them,” answered Lori, my other pal in the vehicle.

“Sammy, do you see them?” I asked, my eyes scanning the water with my lens. Sammy was our guide. He had the eyes of an eagle and if anyone would find them he would be the one to do it.

“I don’t see them anymore,” he replied.

For a moment I felt relief, and then I remembered that just because we couldn’t see them didn’t mean they weren’t waiting underwater.

If only we had x-ray vision.


The crocodile tries to sink its teeth into Tristan

The first zebra, cocky and apparently anxious to get to the other side, began to wade  into the water. Alarms went off in my head as if there was an air raid looming.

“Don’t do it!… Don’t do it!” I said out loud. Hoping the zebra would hear and understand. Nancy and Lori chimed in as we helplessly watched the oblivious zebra walk farther into the river.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Tristan begin to follow.  It was like watching a cheesy horror flick. The two-note soundtrack from Jaws forcing itself into my consciousness.

The first zebra’s stride changed as it hit the deep water and it began to swim. I gripped my camera, my forehead smashed up against the back, eye squinting through the viewfinder, ready for action. I was sure this cocky fellow was going to get eaten.

Then Chris, a fellow traveler in the other jeep shouted “It’s going after the second one!!!!”

Zebra escaping from a crocodile in the Mara River, Kenya

Tristan plants his foot on the river floor and kicks the hungry crock in the face

I looked to the right and a few feet behind the first zebra a wall of water splashed skyward, followed by a large scaly tail. I saw Tristen twist sideways and the splashing became desperate.

There was another loud splash and then that heavy whoosh sound you hear when water is forced sideways at great speed. Tristan had spun, faced the shore from which he came and was running out of the water at breakneck speed, stopping only after reaching the sandy river bank, his sides heaving from the effort and his ears perked forward in alarm.

Zebra escaping from a crocodile in the Mara River, Kenya

Tristan, alone but alive, runs from the crocodile

He’d planted his front hooves in the mud and kicked the crocodile in the face with his back legs. If the water had been any deeper I doubt he would have gotten away.

My heart ached for Tristan, trapped on the far side, away from his buddy and the herd.

He stood staring at the others. So close yet so far way. I imagined he was calculating the odds of trying to cross again. I guess he felt it was too risky because with a large exhale, he walked slowly up the embankment towards the treeline, looked back for a few moments and then disappeared.

Foiled, the crocodile sunk below the surface of water.




24 replies »

  1. I was waiting for this! What an afternoon – and to think we waited 2 hours longer and I still didn’t nail the sequence haha.
    Great images and narrative of a dramatic moment that turned out well for the prey.


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