On a trip to the Masai Mara, I was lucky 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 our guide’s walkie talkie, the wildebeests had been building at the crossing point for over an hour. The aforementioned 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.
When the show began, I concentrated so hard on photographing the hundreds of wildebeest that 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.
Surprisingly, when the moment of the kill was upon me, I didn’t react the way I expected. I thought I’d want to leave. I thought I might cry. But instead, I felt 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 and 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, but this, my first, was over.