Animal Dilemmas – Crocodile Zebras
As the animals approached the water a loud splash filled the air and flocks of birds took off. The Gazelle panicked and bolted away into the grasses. The Zebras were unimpressed, they have been coming to this bend of the slow river all their lives and knew that splashes of the sort were usually harmless. It was either a landslide or a lazy crocodile cooling off.
If there was danger, like a hungry crocodile, they wold never know. The hungry crocodiles were invisible didn’t make a sound until it was too late to run. So the Zebras carried on with minimum caution. They entered the slow river knees deep to cool off and have a drink.
The splash was a crocodile indeed, a hungry but lame river creature. When it was younger the Crocodile had been egocentric and energetic to the point that it attacked a rhino to prove its immortality. However, immortality had proven it wrong by squishing its right back foot making it useless and poking its left eye out making it very hard to navigate above water. The rhino had also broken a few front ribs that didn’t heal properly.
The whole cost tallied up to irregular breathing and making a lot of noise while swimming, which added up to hardly being able to catch a prey. So, the Crocodile was thin, tired and swam slightly sideways with his lame foot stirring like a helpless bird.
When it saw the Zebras with its only eye, the Crocodile made an effort to slide into the water stealthily and submerge so it can catch them by surprise. Instead, it missed a step on the steep bank and plunged into the murky waters. In the slow river bend it could direct itself by the vibrations of the water cased by the animals. So, it swam to the bottom and perked up its ears.
There was too many vibrations for the imperfect animal to choose from so it went with the strongest. It followed them blindly to find out that they were the rumbling of the fast river that caught it in its stream and carried it further down and away from its victims.
The river spat the Crocodile out on a sandy bank. Swimming upstream was not an option but it could swim across and then up the opposite bank where the river was slower. So, that’s what it did. It got across and crawled in the muddy bottom until it was passed the Zebras on the opposite bank. When it judged it far up enough the Crocodile turned around emerged for air and dove back under in order to cross without being noticed. While crossing, the fast river carried it down but not pass the Zebras, it landed just above them in the slow river and emerged for air.
It could smell the fresh meat. It took one last deep breath submerged and glided down in the bathing animals’ direction. In this last stretch of effort its hunger was speaking inside its head. No more rats, and rotten corpses left by the hyenas, it said. No more stealing from young crocodiles that fell asleep over their meal from over eating. You can still hunt, the voice said.
The Crocodile believed that voice and swam better. Its body was straight and glided through the murky waters with ease and grace. The vibrations from the drinking animals were clear and isolated. Its lame foot didn’t hurt any more. Every stroke of its tale was on time.
The slow river became shallow and the Crocodile could see the sun and the five dark shadows of the Zebras, with its only eye. The Zebras were splashing around with full bellies and light hearts.
The Crocodile focused on the closest shadow and ignored the rest. It put all its energy on speed and emerged from the muddy water mouth gaping. The Zebras froze for a second and then all jumped back except the one that had the Crocodile’s teeth in its neck.
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photograph by Tambako the Jaguar