The crater we saw today probably has around 16- or 17,000 animals, about 80% of its optimum at this time of the year, as it recovers nicely from the earlier drought.
Such a compact wilderness with such a thick biomass is normally seriously stressed:
Lions encroach on each others’ territories setting up huge fights; many young are more successfully raised because of abundant food, which as we saw today in a golden jackal family creates internal fighting; normal behaviors break down as we saw in a dozen old male elephants all hanging out together … certainly not comfortably.
Buffalo will normally adopt abandoned young. If a mother dies in childbirth, for example, a sister or auntie buf will often take it on. Yet today we watched just such an abandoned baby, birth sack yet completely removed, walk weakly among its herd looking for help and getting nothing but a huge fling into the sky off the powerful rack of one female with another calve.
That’s unusual. It fell into a lump and we drove right up to it, and it brayed at us miserably. Hyaenas were gathering. The outcome was clear.
Yet overlaying all this explicit tension is one of the most peaceful feeling places in all of Africa.
The peace comes first from beauty: the light in the crater, especially now during the rainy season with the skies so wondrously painted, is ever changing. The backlight, the sunbeams through the rain clouds, the blue reflections off the ponds, create a universe so visually inspiring there simply can’t be anything negative about it.
The sounds of so many wildebeest blarting, individually rhythmically but collectively pure comedy, is so utterly meaningless it’s nothing less than beautiful music.
The vibrancy of the veld adequately watered had everything in high gear: everything from the gazelle chomping the endless grasslands, to the pelican diving for fresh-water fish in beautifully clear running streams, to kori bustards and red-collared widow birds in the most hysterical courtship displays imaginable … life was intricately good.
Can we gather from this contradictory situation that, in fact, it isn’t really contradictory? Can we come out of the crater, today, understanding that if we don’t anthropomorphize birth and death in animals that instead we will begin to comprehend the most amazing puzzles of creation?
I think so. I think that’s the message we took from the crater this morning: we alone, homo sapiens sapiens, should be judged for our behaviors, because our behaviors are no longer chained to limited and clearly specific methods of survival.
The baby buf would be eaten by the hyaena for goodness, because it was nature working, and the fact that it remains somewhat a mystery to us is simply our inability to fully comprehend the puzzle of life.
But experiencing the crater helps us comprehend the puzzle, to want to understand its pieces without projecting our own totally unique ids onto the dung beetle.
And that journey is unlikely to be completed, but it absolutely is down the yellow brick road with a certain end that is good and beautiful.