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This is one in a series of email dispatches from Africa written this fall by photographer Michael Nichols to his picture editor, Kathy Moran.
This morning we came to the river with high hopes. We had been getting skunked because the gnu are crossing north to south. We are on the wrong side of the river, so have only “rear-in” views. The low river crossing, or drift, as it’s known, is flooded and impassable; we cannot get to the other side.
We had seen three big crossings (rear-end views again) at a spot where I found a tree in just the right position to place a camera trap we could radio-trigger from a distance. This would give us a wide-angle intimate view of the crossing chaos. High hopes. Our only reservation was that a group of wildebeests came and watched us install the camera at dusk. Maybe they have some smarts after all. Maybe nothing adds up to something in great numbers.
Today thousands crossed at the spot next door to but away from where I placed my camera—a spot where we could find no vantage point. In the Congo I would be on foot to find a view but not here. All I could see to photograph were the zebras that were waiting with the gnus to cross. They are very, very cautious and wait until it is a sure, sure thing. We could see through the bushes that things had gone wrong in the flooded river for the wildebeests. Many had drowned and when it was over at least 50 were stuck and exhausted on a rock in the middle of the rapids, crocs waiting patiently below.
It was hot, super hot, not a cloud in the sky. We waited to watch what happened to the stranded wildebeests. Do they try again? Do they spend the night on their little island?
Bad and getting worse.