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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field
Another Day at the Crossing
Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project    Share

Nearly 600 wildebeest have drowned in the last week. It isn’t so much that the water is high as the fact that the wildebeest are stupid. After watching the crossing, it really is the only impression one is left with. Why, why do they cross that way? You sit as the herds approach, anticipation building as they near the beckoning water, filled with crocodiles and completed with a cliff. The wildebeest have reached the edge and take a drink before beginning what will likely be the hardest part of their journey.

You look across the river and it seems clear. The current is strong, so the wildebeest will need to start a bit upstream to aim for the least steep part of the opposite bank; only then will they be able to get out safely. The zebras seem to agree with the observers and though they don’t give themselves much leeway they make it to the safest part of the bank and go up the steady incline. Not only do the wildebeest not aim upstream to make the crossable area, they aim farther downstream directly into a rocky bank that is completed with a five foot cliff that none will be able to pass. In a gentler world, the wildebeest would turn back once they realize their error, but when crossing in the hundreds one doesn’t have such options. The animals soon find themselves packed against the banks with a few struggling to go up but many trapped in the river and squished into the banks. As more animals pour into the river, the few in the middle slowly slip beneath the water, unable to swim any longer. They will appear downstream in a few days as the rotting corpses on which the vultures will gorge. Blotted and rotten the dead wildebeest pile together creating great island on which the Ruppell’s and African white-backed vultures will walk and fight.

For a few of the stronger swimmers there awaits another fate. Some wildebeest are able to break free of the herd and turn around. They doggy-paddle their way back to the other shore in great effort and exhaustion, but they don’t go unwatched. Lurking in the distance, a crocodile enters the scene. Ancient, hard, and build for the water, they have waited all year for this special moment. The crocodile enters the herds and waits a few meters back. As the stragglers turn around and try to get back to the original bank, they drift right up to the crocodile who holds himself in place with his powerful tail. A splash and a crunch and the wildebeest vanishes beneath the waters. Strong enough not to drown, but not strong enough to escape such a magnificent killing machine. Gluttons after months of famine, the crocodiles move in again and again – killing three wildebeest in less than an hour and storing them along the riverbank for later consumption.

Find more articles about White-backed Vulture, Africa

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