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Posted December 8, 2011
Dispatch #6
Bad Water, Bad Dreams

This is one in a series of email dispatches from Africa written this fall by photographer Michael Nichols to his picture editor, Kathy Moran.

Photo: Scavengers picking corpses
“Everything tasted and smelt of death and it does not leave you when you drive away.”

Dear Kathy,

You will have trouble with the images I collected today—they are difficult to look at. We had a big rain, which draws the wildebeests north to cross the Mara River. The next day I went to check for a crossing. The river was muddy and in flood, and as we drove along we came upon an unbearable stench. Everywhere the river was filled with rotting carcasses and literally thousands of vultures enjoying a feast. Eating seems to be what the Serengeti is all about.

Reba and Mohamed, the park ranger, were with me. We made one survey, but saw that no wildebeests were gathering, so decided to go home and try a micro-copter flight test with Nathan. We passed one particular spot with five or six gnus (wildebeests) and a bloated, drowned hippo that seemed to have drawn a vulture convention. We had to hold our breath.

I was driving and thinking that as gross as this is, it would be simply wrong for me not to stop and document the scene to try and make sense of it. I stopped at the vulture convention.

Three hours passed. Reba and Mohamed had not said a word. Later Reba noted that everything tasted and smelled of death, and Mohamed explained to me that the drowned animals had washed down in the flood from the many upriver crossings in Kenya in the past month. As the river level dropped quickly, the carcasses were left on rocks for the birds to pick clean.

Some of the images are poetic and interesting. All are unpleasant.

This morning Reba and I both noted a night of bad dreaming.

Previous Next dispatch: “Hard Lessons, Hard Choices”

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