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There be Dragons here
Its a small stream in my favourite part of the Masai Mara. I especially like driving along its banks in the afternoons as you never see another vehicle. There is a beautiful Sausage tree along its banks and I have many times dreamt about building a bush house there, fantasizing about living on that little narrow stream in the middle of the great grass plains...
This particular afternoon was no different and we were winding our way along the stream blissfully adrift on the open veld. There is a point where the road crosses the stream and I have forged this crossing at least one hundred times in the last 10 years. I had never before seen a crocodile there though, it really is a narrow and small piece of water. A zebra herd was drinking peacefully and we stopped to take some photographs. Just then I thought I saw something, a flash of scales maybe? Could it be that one of the large crocodiles had swum up from the Mara River? The wildebeest migration had long since left and the crocs were hungry. What's more is that I myself have learnt, first hand, that old wise crocodiles know how to walk miles and miles to unsuspecting waters, where they can ambush prey. This I learnt while bobbing down a remote sand river on a tractor tube in Ruaha, but that's another story for another time.
Jumping out of the car I inched my way to the water's edge and lying down facing the water head on, it is a familiar position for me, and one that always makes me feel vulnerable as if a croc grabbed me it would be head first - game over. This thought bounced through my mind while I trained my lens on the still, calm water. The water remained flat for some time before erupting - mere inches in front of the zebra's nose.
The behemoth surfaced with a flying flash of furry right in front of the zebra. The dragon of the deep breathed not fire but rather thousands of small water droplets, ejected from its dragon-like nostrils in two foul spurts. He has translucent membranes that allows him to see under water and although he is a literal living dinosaur, he has special hemoglobin in his blood that allows him to remain submerged for over an hour. This master of the murk had waited for the zebra to drink peacefully, to walk deep into the tranquil pool to quench its long thirst, before launching his attack.
The zebra jerked its head back and for a split second the scene froze. The water slid off the crocodile. The water droplets were suspended in midair. The zebra's head high and still, in utter disbelief.
As reality dawned on the zebra, its heart beat quickened. So did mine. The zebra turned. The crocodile turned. Their eyes met. 'You at 5.6, just track that crocodile's eye' was all I heard playing over and over in my mind. I have learnt to photograph the moment and to philosophize about it later. Only in hindsight have I noticed that the the croc's head was longer than the zebra's, this was indeed an 18ft monster.
The zebra turned to flee and within the blink of an eye the crocodile had spun around in what looked like nothing more than a churning frothing wall of white water. When the water subsided the crocodile had the hind leg of the zebra in its vice-like grip and had snapped it in two! Crocodiles have the strongest bite ever measured in the animal kingdom, slamming their jaws shut with 5000 pounds per square inch, that's five times more than a hyena. The croc's teeth were covered in algae, he really was an ancient relic of the deep.
The waters fell silent again. I could here the birds calling again. The tranquil scene belied the horror beneath the water. Life seemed to be flowing out of the zebra with every passing minute; its eyes sank deeper into its skull. I looked away from my viewfinder. The water an ineffective veneer. I had seen too much.
Driving back to camp, we passed the the same zebra herd that had been drinking. The sun set and I chose to blur my subject in remembrance of the zebra whose death I had just documented. A visual metaphor if you like and a reminder that all life vanishes.
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