#6 : WILDEBEEST ARC, MAASAI MARA, 2006
Death by Tourist. (Read on and you will understand what I mean by that.)
I have always found the river crossings of wildebeest and zebra, in their search for fresh grass on the other side of the river, incredibly moving and courageous.
For this photo, we waited for a couple of days as the wildebeest gathered on the opposite bank, looking like, at any minute, they were finally going to (literally) make the leap. But as is so often the way, something would unnerve or distract them, and they would retreat.
Sometimes on these waits, it’s the zebras that finally decide to make the first jump, as if they grow impatient with the wildebeests’ group indecision, and decide, “oh, fer chrissakes, well, we’re going”, at which point the wildebeest group-think, “oh, yeah, okay, we’ll come too”).
Frequently at these crossings, you find yourself tensely watching as the crocodiles close in on a chosen wildebeest swimming across the river. Will it make it in time? Closer the crocodiles swim....closer....closer...and as the wildebeest makes it to the other shore with crocodile just a few feet away, we simultaneously sigh with relief, cheer and applaud.
But..sometimes, tourist vehicles with ignorant guides and tourists will position themselves on the river bank right at the wildebeest exit points - in order to get a better / more dramatic view. In so doing, they block the wildebeests' exit, forcing them to panic, tumble back down the bank and try to cross back to the other side. In so doing, some drown, exhausted. It is especially heartbreaking when mother and calf are separated. The calf is doomed at this point.
Tourism is a vital component in the survival of these creatures and these ecosystems, but it has to be responsible tourism. But this is not it. So if you are on safari with some idiot ‘guide’ trying this stunt, please tell them to back off and educate them that they are likely causing the death(s) of wildebeests.
(By the way, that did not happen during the crossing depicted in this photo. And everyone who did the swim across in this particular shot made it, as I recall.)
The photo is published in “A Shadow Falls” (available again after a long time out of print, available on Amazon), and in “On This Earth, A Shadow Falls” (available again on $112 on Amazon at this new link here. SIGNED copies available at www.photoeye.com.