This is a story of courage! An epic tale caught on film, of one animal’s refusal to give up. A gigantic struggle against the odds; a fight from within the jaws of death. Now, I have been privileged to have seen some sensational moments over the years: births, deaths and a plethora of torn emotions. Tears – of joy and sorrow – have been shed, but nothing has come anywhere close to what I saw on this day!
The Battle of Courage took place at Shingalana Dam, in the centre of Londolozi Game Reserve. We came across a large 9-foot long crocodile, clutching in its jaws the front leg of a adult wildebeest cow. At the time, both animals were on the gently sloping bank of the watering hole. The scene was surreal as not a single sound could be heard. For a moment the bush was in shock. Time oozed on and the surrounding animals began to return to their daily necessities. I would not say they were oblivious to the events taking place at the waters edge, but rather that they had all accepted that this was not their fight. Two of Africa’s iconic animals were locked in battle. The crocodile and the wildebeest were about to engage in one of the most epic struggles ever to have been seen.
A tug-of-war based on force, adrenalin and muscle lasted for close on an hour-and-a-half. Both animals were spurred on by the most primal of needs: survival. The crocodile wanted food and the wildebeest wanted life. In the water the reptile had the upper hand; it pulled, yanked and crunched down on the wildebeest’s leg. Powerful jaws snapped straight through, shattering the bone and leaving the gnu unable to walk properly. With the crocodile still attached, and at times barely above the surface of the water, the wildebeest refused to die.
Admiration and respect are two words which do not even begin to touch on the emotions that were churning deep inside my very being. I was delighted to be watching such a spectacle, but saddened that it was so drawn out. I was riding on the grandest of emotional roller-coasters. People constantly mock and make fun of the wildebeest as being ugly, incomplete and dim. They assign it no value and write it off as cannon fodder. Well, here we were witnessing first-hand how courageous these beasts can be. Even as the crocodile tried its strategic ‘death-roll’, the wildebeest simply would not concede defeat. Its courage was raw and tangible.
After the hour mark, and after seeing the wildebeest being bitten in the face, my emotions changed… I just wanted her to lay down her sword and die. With three legs she managed to drag the crocodile backwards and forwards across the dam. It was in shock and its body was shaking! I wondered if she was even feeling pain or whether she was functioning at another level completely. She was partially paralysed and was wrestling a large crocodile. I wanted her to give up. She was too courageous!
Is it possible to be too courageous?
Her courage took her further. The wildebeest was not ready to die. She would not die on that fateful day. In one final lunge she jolted forward and made a bee-line for dry land. She did it. She pulled herself away from the jaws of the crocodile and onto safety. Once she hit terra firma, the entire ball game changed.
Adrenalin pulsated through her body. The sight was horrific and the image will forever be etched in my mind. I felt sick inside. As hopeless as the situation was she was determined to die on her own terms. Although eventual death was certain for this female, she had won this battle.
She would survive through the night, only to die the following day. Her body would serve as much needed food for the Camp Pan Male leopard, numerous hyena and even the original crocodile, who ventured out from the water to feed on the carcass… Her spirit, however, was released into the ether, forever roaming free. For me, and all those who witnessed this colossal battle, it will be her memory which defines courage.
Written and Filmed by Adam Bannister
Photographed by Adam Bannister and James Tyrrell