As wildlife photographers we remain glued to our camera eye piece hunting for that fine intrinsic moment that tells a compelling natural history story. Well the eyes are trained for this and the outcome in the form of images is quite satisfactory but what we miss in this entire process is to absorb and connect with the animal and human emotions around us. During my recent visit to Mara this was one emotional incident that forced me take my eye off the camera and be sensitive towards what was happening around me.
The wildebeests kept piling along side the banks of the Mara river. The gathering gradually grew from hundreds to thousands and within a couple of hours around 30,000 wildebeests were waiting to take the final plunge countering the deadly crocs lazing around in the muddy river, for all the 30000 odd eyes could see was the lush cover of grass on the opposite side.
The stage was set and so were the audience. Around 50 vehicles were lined up on each side of the river with more than 100 photographers concentrating hard with fingers on the trigger. Suddenly a group of zebras stormed towards the river and the wildebeests who had been waiting for someone to take the first step followed them. This was yet another river crossing as the Great Annual Migration was underway.
Amidst the sounds of those 100 odd camera shutters a faint sound towards my right attracted my attention. A wildebeest stampede on the opposite side of the river forced me to remain focused and I kept shooting ignoring all the background disturbance. However this particular sound on my right was persistant and continued to distract me.
I finally took me eye off the camera and saw that a lady somewhere in her 50s was intently watching the proceedings at the river along with her 2 sons. Tear drops were rolling down her cheeks as she hugged her elder son and lifted the younger one on her shoulders so that he could get a clearer view. The families eyes were lit up with a mix of excitement, emotion and anticipation and by this time I had literally forgotten about the big river crossing which went on and on…
And finally after around 20 minutes when the last group of wildebeests made their way to the river she greeted both her sons with a statement that made my eyes moist. “We saved our entire life to witness this son… Now I can lead the rest of my life with peace for we have seen the nature’s biggest wildlife spectacle.”
For me it was a mere river crossing. Just another set of subjects and activity for pictorial documentation. For some it was their dream for which they have waited for years. It was indeed a special and privileged moment for me to be alongside that vehicle that day and feel the emotions that go hand in hand with sightings in the wild!