A short observational piece on animals

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Mar 16th, 2006, 06:34 PM
  #1
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A short observational piece on animals

Hi Fodorites - it's been a while since I posted on this forum; we're currently living in India whilst my wife is on a work assignment. I still however need my regular fix on Africa and the various trip reports provide some relief for the ache to return there. I thought one or two of you may be interested in a piece I wrote whilst in the Serengeti last year; my first attempt at anything other than a journal-type trip report

The need for Water

It’s a hot, dry afternoon out here in Central Serengeti, Northern Tanzania. Bare baobab trees dominate the landscape, appearing like giants with dozens of outstretched hands reaching up for the rains. We’re parked in our converted Land Cruiser by a slow running river, not much deeper than a stream. On the far bank of the river is a sleeping Nile crocodile, which has probably eaten very recently. We can also see a disinterested hippopotamus several metres upstream. Ahead of us are about three hundred zebras and maybe a thousand wildebeest. They are inching their way across the plain towards the river and its’ cool life enabling water, but at the slightest sound, a plover chirruping on a nearby branch or a distant cry inaudible to humans, they suddenly turn and run away for fifty or so metres. During this dash, the dust rises in clouds, making the flying hooves and tossing necks seem as one swirling melange of animal flesh and bone. Individuals are impossible to pinpoint. Every zebra seems connected to every other by an invisible rope, and the wildebeest huddle together in shared panic. The sounds are deafening. Wildebeest gnu gnu’ing, zebras barking and whinnying.

The drama continues, yet the tension eases for the moment. The animals have calmed a little and again they begin their slow march to the water. It’s a case of one or two steps forward then one step back. We try to guess which animal will be first to drink. The wildebeest are definitely making the more positive moves, but then, as if from some silent message, they suddenly stop. Two zebras take the lead when suddenly a jeep roars over a nearby hill, travelling in our direction. This creates a major panic for the animals and they turn and stampede. They are crashing into each another, biting and kicking each other. Several short but violent fights follow as the tension builds amongst the herds. I see one wildebeest run headlong into an acacia tree, fall down but immediately spring to its’ feet to continue its’ dash to safety. The animals want to leave, to move far away from the intrusions, but they have to stay, they have to drink soon. Their sense of frustration is tangible. I wonder how many times a day that we humans provoke such reactions.

The jeep slows to a rest, the handbrake is noisily engaged and the engine is switched off. All is quiet again. Gradually the animals overcome their concern at the new presence, driven by a greater need, to drink. The slow motion procession to the water starts again. Three brave zebras venture forward; they will show the others that there is no danger. Forward they move, slowly, slowly, eyes and ears alert, graceful necks turning this way and that. It’s safe to go in the water. In they go. They stand close together and start to drink. Others follow. Soon there are twenty or thirty zebras in the tiny stream. Then the jeep engine is fired. Panic. Bodies fling themselves around, trying to escape from the water. Spray everywhere; and noise. The river is cleared in about five seconds. Great clouds of dust, braying and barking sounds, pandemonium. We watch the jeep drive away. We stay still. Few animals have yet drunk; there are more acts to come in this particular play. We continue to watch the comings and goings for some time when we look back behind us. There must be a thousand or more wildebeest moving in our direction. They are an army, but without a general. They have a solitary, shared plan and it’s time we moved on.

………………………
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Mar 16th, 2006, 06:58 PM
  #2
santharamhari
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Phil,

Greetings! Where in India? i'm in Tamil Nadu.......

Hari
 
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Mar 16th, 2006, 07:33 PM
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Hi Phil,

I am in Ahmedabad, where are u based,
been to see indian tigers!!!! Sonali
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Mar 16th, 2006, 08:09 PM
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Phil - nice piece. unfortunately another nail in East Africa's coffin for me.
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Mar 16th, 2006, 08:14 PM
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napamatt,
Sorry,what do you mean?
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Mar 17th, 2006, 01:26 AM
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Beautiful Phil. Thanks for sharing.
 
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Mar 17th, 2006, 04:50 AM
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What a beautiful and concise read - enjoyed it and hope to see more.
Thank you;
Sherry
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Mar 17th, 2006, 06:02 AM
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Phil:
I enjoyed reading your piece--reminds me of some watching we did. Even without some aggravation from a vehicle they would drink and run, drink and run--as a safety precaution--never letting their guard down. And for good reason--out of the blue a lioness came running in--fortunately for the wildies and zebras, she was too slow.
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Mar 18th, 2006, 06:08 AM
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Thanks Phil. I'm wondering about those zebras now.
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Mar 18th, 2006, 09:17 AM
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Thanks, Governor Phil. A great read. Makes me think about watching zebras and wildebeest at the Grumeti river, seemingly not noticing the crocs zeroing in on them. And it also makes me remember how our guide would turn the vehicle and roll up in neutral, trying to do things as quietly as possible.
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