Readers’ wildlife photos

Nature isn’t always pretty, particularly when natural selection is acting, as it might be here. These photos come from reader Robert Lang, who called the sequence, “Brown water, green death.”  His  captions are indented:

These are some photos from a trip last year to Kenya. One of the highlights of the trip was watching a crossing of the Mara river in the Masai Mara National Park. Twice a year, vast herds of wildebeest (these are blue wildebeest, Connochaetes taurinus), plains zebra (Equus quagga), and others cross the river to get to new pastures. The river is swift and rocky, and there are only a few places where they can easily get down to the water, and the animals congregate in the thousands at these spots. They mill around for hours (“you go.” “No, YOU go.” “I’ll go if you go.” “OK, but YOU go first,” etc), until one brave soul jumps in, and then the rest follow.


Many don’t make it; they get swept downstream, are tumbled on the rocks, or trampled by their mates, and provide a smorgasbord of carrion for the scavengers. (Also, a bounty for more active predators, as we will see.) This little fellow got swept down from the main crossing area, but an adult (presumably mama) positioned herself downstream of the youngster to provide a little assistance.


And they both made it to the other side, a bit bedraggled, but safe and whole. Someone else didn’t, as you can see off to the left.


Current and rocks are not the only hazards, however, and ungulates are not the only creatures who know the crossing spots. The casualties provide a banquet for the resident Nile Crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus). Some of them, though, like this one, seem to prefer their food fresh.


That was a big croc: maybe 12- or 15-footer, but that was also a big gnu, who gave the croc the stink-eye:


And croc backed off, perhaps knowing that there would be easier pickings coming along.


Like this one. Croc showed no hesitation.




There were about 30 vehicles on both sides of the river at the crossing, each stuffed with photographers. When this croc hit, one heard the thunder of a thousand motorized shutters.

A few seconds later, he opened his mouth to get a better grip…


And he chomped down again.


And then he swam away with his dinner.


Seeing this engendered some pretty mixed feelings. I think I was probably not alone in thinking simultaneously “the poor little thing!” and “wow, I’m glad I got to see that”. But that’s Nature for you. (And human nature.)


  1. BobTerrace
    Posted February 10, 2017 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    Not my kind of breakfast.

  2. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted February 10, 2017 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    Wow!! An amazing sequence, and I really like the commentary, especially about the camera shutters. Thank you for sharing.

  3. David Harper
    Posted February 10, 2017 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    As an antidote to Nature red in tooth and claw, I offer Flanders and Swann signing a paean to the Gnu:

    • rickflick
      Posted February 10, 2017 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      Thanks. That’s very gnice of you.

  4. Blue
    Posted February 10, 2017 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    W H O A, Dr Lang ! I’ll say: “this engendered some pretty mixed feelings. … … not alone in thinking simultaneously ‘the poor little thing!’ & ‘wow, I’m glad I got to see that.’ But that’s Nature for you.”

    Impressive sequence !
    S t i l l … … a cause for a pause !


  5. Paul S
    Posted February 10, 2017 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Croc’s got to eat, but I still feel for the wildebeest.

  6. ladyatheist
    Posted February 10, 2017 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    As mammals, we empathize with the mammals I suppose. If a bear catches a fish we’re like “YAY! Got one!” but if a crocodile catches dinner we think “poor thing”

  7. rickflick
    Posted February 10, 2017 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    You could spin this story by pointing out that the wildbeest was having her gene pool pruned so that future generations would be better able to enjoy ripping and shredding the poor grass (this point of view is worthy of Kellyanne Conway).

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted February 10, 2017 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      … and, don’t forget, probably overgrazing the grasslands and farting methane which contributes to global warming…

      You don’t have to be Kellyanne Conway to realise herbivores are not all benign.


  8. Posted February 10, 2017 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Well, my reaction is neither “the poor little thing” nor “wow, I’m glad I got to see that”. It is “Horrible! How unspeakably horrible! If only we humans could get rid of these species and never allow anything like this to happen again.” We could still keep some of them in zoos.

    I know no one will agree with me. No one ever does when I say this sort of thing. But it does puzzle me that many people who will happily say things like ‘If this is the best God could do he should not have done it’ (a sentiment I completely agree with) still want the world to continue as it is. Those clicking cameras may be a clue to the answer.

    • bugfolder
      Posted February 10, 2017 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      Hi ohtobide,

      I suspect I am not alone in saying that my desire to see ecosystems preserved did not suddenly appear when I got my camera.

      Historically, when people have removed top predators from an ecosystem, it has turned out badly–including, often, for the prey animals, who, instead of succumbing to predation, succumb to disease, starvation, and other ills of over-population.

      I would also ask how far down the food chain you would go in your predator removal strategy. Leopards that prey on baboons at night? Babboons that prey on leopards during the day? Cats that prey on birds? Birds that prey on insects? Insects that prey on each other? I don’t see a clear cutoff, but if you do, please elucidate.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted February 10, 2017 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      The same degree of terror and death plays out in 8-hour shifts at the slaughterhouse at the other end of your packaged meat. But most people don’t want to think about that because it means they’ll have to become veggies.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted February 10, 2017 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

        Arguably, if the slaughterhouse is well run, the terror is lessened and the death quicker and more painless.

        Since we have more insight and empathy than crocs and gnus, it’s the least we should do.


        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted February 10, 2017 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

          There is a leading “if” there which is invariably at tension with the concept of “profit margin”.

  9. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted February 10, 2017 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    who called the sequence, “Brown water, green death.”

    The titling is a clear reference to the classic 1971 documentary about Great White sharks, Blue Water, White Death.

  10. Posted February 10, 2017 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Great photos and description!

    I do want the world to continue as it is, though it is cruel, and if it were designed I’d blame the designer. There are so many species endangered. If they get extinct, it will be a poor consolation for me that they have had nasty lives, and many have been nasty themselves.

  11. Mark R.
    Posted February 10, 2017 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    How loud is it around those hundreds (thousands?) of ungulates? How strong is the smell? Lots of flies? Photos might be worth a thousand words, but they only convey one sense.

    Either way, these are superb. Thanks!

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