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February 19, 2024

The Watering Hole

By Ken Dubuque

The giraffes and zebras were quibbling again.

It was another hot, dusty day in this most remote part of the Serengeti plain in Africa. While there was still ample grass and the scrub bushes were fairly lush on the savanna, the dry season was now well along. The flowers were long gone on the jackalberry trees; their remains removed by termites on whose mounds the trees grew. Soon the only green would be the upside down baobab trees and the varietal and fragrant acacia trees .

The waterhole, the only source of water for miles around, was shrinking but hopefully would last the long dry period without rain. The surrounding area had been reduced to dirt with clod-like bumps from the repeated compression of many wet hooves, paws and feet. There was mud along the edges of the pond which provided relief to the various visitors who wallowed in it to build a protective coating on their hides, as a defense against the multitude of biting flies and ants.

While the herbivores: giraffe, zebra, antelope, etc. were very wary of their natural enemies: lion, leopard, and hyena and the like, they had to leave the relative safety of the high elephant grass or the few stands of trees to drink simply to survive. In the past the plant eaters had also worried about crocodiles who lurked just below the surface of the water with their periscope eyes and powerful jaws. But in the last few years these reptiles seemed to have disappeared with the ever reducing seasonal water level. Some of the elders in the herds had started to express concern about the decreasing water supply.

The groups of elephants who paraded through every now and then, with their enormous ears and tusks in full display, said, "they were not coming to this waterhole anymore because it didn't taste as good as it had in the past," and "they were willing to risk closer contact with the indigenous Masai people, to drink from the more reliable rivers to the west."

Even the nomadic wildebeest had said, "while they enjoyed the company of the locals, they were changing their annual migration route to head farther east near the big lake."

With their ugly faces and beards the gnus (their other, more fun name) really couldn't afford to be choosy, but thirst won out. But the local herds of zebras, giraffes and antelope didn't feel as comfortable with unknown places so they just stayed put and hoped that their water would not dry up.

The zebras were becoming increasingly vocal in their annoyance with the giraffes.

The Grevy's zebra group, who could be distinguished by their narrow stripes, noticeably on their rumps, would bray with a horse-like-grunt that ended with a kind of odd whistle saying things like, "we know you giraffes are trying to keep all the water for yourselves," and "we're keeping an eye on you long-necked spotties, (apparently their idea of the ultimate insult.)"

The target of their taunts were the reticulated group of giraffes, who could be recognized by their liver-red quadrangular markings which decreased in size from their bodies to their necks, some nineteen feet off the ground.

As they were particularly prideful about what they viewed as their more shapely markings than others of their species, the regal-looking giraffes uttered a subdued sort of husky grunt saying, "well, you undistinguished blenders are the real culprits here because you keep inviting all your friends to come drink our water," and "worse yet, you uncouth bathers pee in the pond."

The zebras who believed that their stripes made it hard to locate individual members of their herd, couldn't see why not standing out was such a bad thing but retorted nonetheless, "who would want to galump when they run anyway?," and "yours just runs down your leg."

To which the giraffes, who were a little slow witted could only think to respond, "oh yeah" and galump in slow motion to the nearest acacia tree.

As they wrapped their thick tongues around some tasty but thorny acacia leaves high up in the trees that no other animals could reach or safely eat, they would glare at the zebras and try to think of pithy insults.

To the other animals who visited the waterhole, like the antelopes: beautifully marked impalas and gazelles with lovely curved horns, this constant bickering was becoming increasingly annoying. But they were small and could only rapidly lope away from trouble, so they just quietly drank and daydreamed of delicious things to eat. Even the hartebeests, large antelopes with graceful humped shoulders and intricately curved horns, tossed their heads from side to side, as if in disgust but mostly to ward off flies.

Still the carping continued. Even when trying to drink, the zebras spent more time watching the giraffes, which meant turning their heads out of the water, which wasn't exactly conducive to getting much liquid. The giraffes meanwhile had to spread their long legs in a kind of straddling motion in order to lower themselves to water level while keeping an eye, and lately two on the zebras. This resulted in a rather ungainly and awkward motion; which of course, the more compact zebras found hilarious. This also caused the giraffes to dunk their entire heads in the muddy water thus coating their eyes so they couldn't see the zebras as clearly, further fueling their nervousness, as well as the zebras anxiety.

Adding to the disagreeable atmosphere around the waterhole, a new group of giraffe called Masai distinguished by their irregularly shaped markings, the color of the dusty tan ground, had started to drink at the waterhole; as their distant pond had dried up.

While you would think the newcomers would at least be polite and give precedence to the indigenous population, these shorter intruders just barged through, threatening everyone with their sharp-hooved forelimbs and feigning thrusts with their powerful necks, all the while saying "our horns (really just small bare -- or fur-covered in the case of females -- bone extensions of their skulls) give us the right to drink first."

To make matters worse, a group of also-now-pondless zebras, named Burchell's with wide stripes and shorter head and ears than their cousins, galloped in, all the while biting and kicking with a barking whinny sound saying "kwaha kwaha kwa-ha-ha-ha;" which remains untranslated to spare the reader of some inappropriate language.

Each group would retreat with almost-compass-like precision to their separate areas: the reticulated giraffes to the acacia stand to eat and doze with their heads in crotches of the tree branches; the longer-bodied Grevy's zebras to the tall okra plants to bray quietly at the moon; the more disagreeable Masai giraffes to stand under the baobabs and make rhythmic guttural sounds from deep in their throats, while watching the stars; and finally the very unpleasant Burchell's zebras into an open area of dirt where they kicked up their hind legs, creating copious clouds of dust, which of course settled on the increasingly muddy waterhole. And not for a minute did any group take their eyes off the other. You might think representatives from each group would take turns looking at each of the other three groups while the majority of the herd slept. But not the paranoid zebras: every one of them looked around at every other herd constantly, which not only made for a rather comical dance-like-scene but also resulted in some very sore necks and tired creatures . This increasing tiredness was particularly true of the quarrelsome Burchell's zebras who couldn't seem to kick and look at the same time, causing them to fall over occasionally; much to the delight of the Masai giraffes. They in turn would interrupt their stargazing with guttural guffaws, which of course kept their entire group awake. The tall reticulated giraffes, although clumsy at times, could look down on all the others and at least dozed a bit, between the sounds of clip clopping, crashing and chuckling.

One of the older and wiser of the less sleepy reticulated giraffes tried to think of ways to solve the problem. He thought, maybe I could reason with our former friends -- the Grevy's -- and we could drive the obnoxious Burchell's away altogether or perhaps I might trick the Masai giraffes to leave for "that other waterhole (haha)." If he were physically capable of resting his head on an appendage he would have presented an animal version of Rodin's statue of The Thinker.

By chance a sounder of warthogs happened by, only noticeable by their tails bobbing along above the shorter bristle grass. The old giraffe, who was kind of an unequal among equals, spotted them and asked if they knew of another place to drink nearby. The warthogs grunted back that they didn't, whispering among themselves that they were sworn not to reveal the whereabouts of their waterhole by the sacred porcine oath, and rolled around in the comforting mud. The wise giraffe knew they were not telling the truth, as they twitched their tusks when they lied but he just sighed.

But the wise old giraffe would not give up, and questioned a troop of baboons who stopped by. He thought that, with their hands they might be able to dig a deeper hole to catch more water when the rains eventually came. The baboons, who were busily grooming each other, were so distracted by the braying zebras, the kicking zebras, the galumping giraffes and the thrusting giraffes that they couldn't concentrate and hurried away without responding.

Another discussion with a seemingly more reasonable elder Grevy's zebra, who was among the first habitants of the waterhole, but didn't really have any sway over the juvenile-like herd, proved fruitless. So the old giraffe made one last try with a hippopotamus, who lumbered on its short legs into the pond to cool off its enormous hairless body. But hippos liked to be left alone and are generally quiet, other than the "hooch haw-haw-haw" sound as they moved. But the wise giraffe leaned down and respectfully asked the hippo if he knew of any other ponds his herd might share, in exchange for his cleverly thought out offer of giraffe surveillance. However hippos with their bulk and powerful tusks don't really have any enemies, so they didn't need guards and were very protective of their homeland. Their territory, although inhabited by many river horses (as hippos are sometimes called), of different temperaments and speaking a multitude of languages seemed to be quite peaceful without any intruders.

Thus the hippo wasn't very forthcoming and disappeared with a lumbering 'hoosh' into the night saying, "it was nice talking to you."

The wise old giraffe was so tired from looking over his shoulder, weary from thinking and trying to negotiate and hoarse from drinking muddy water that he just gave up and wandered from the waterhole one day. By chance, a zoological team collecting specimens happened by and captured him. Consequently, he was taken to a zoo in another country. While his habitat was somewhat confining, he had all the fresh cool water he could drink and all the succulent leaves he could eat, a very sexy lady friend, a nice uniformed human to pet him once in a while and most of all : no complaining zebras. Visitors to the zoo remarked that the new animal addition had a very goofy grin on his face.

Without their wise old leader even the calmer reticulated giraffes became more agitated and vocal, saying things like, "Stripes are just strips," or "What's black and white and wet all over? : A drowning zebra."

This caused side-splitting laughter among the easily entertained giraffes.

To which their former friends -- the Grevy's zebras -- responded, "Spots are specific," or "Long necks aren't necessary."

Neither of which would make it on the animal standup comedy tour.

The ever-quarrelsome Masai giraffes and Burchell's zebras and continued to keep up their kicking and thrusting and generally making a lot of guttural sounds with sing-song rhymes like, "a zebra of any stripe is still a streaker," or "a giraffe is just a bunch of speckles."

These interactions caused all of the animals to gag a lot from thirst and become even more tired. They also became quite hungry as they rarely left the waterhole any more to feed on the now-dried-up grass and scrub bushes. And none of them seemed to notice that the water level was appreciably dropping.

Between their weakened condition and not having the energy to hide in the bushes anymore, all four groups of zebras and giraffes became easy prey for the lions, leopards and scavenging hyenas. The predators had been tipped off about the arguing and the deteriorating health of some of their favorite herbivore lunches by a traitorous black rhinoceros, a herbivore himself, who wanted the watering hole exclusively for his family. The predators described their resulting somewhat thinner and appreciably drier meals as a little tough but tasting like chicken. Although they were pretty hungry, they had their fills in proper carnivore order: first the beautifully maned male lions, followed by the immaculately clean lionesses and tumbling, playful lion cubs; solitary leopards and cheetah families; and finally the scavengers: hyenas (who somehow ate and laughed at the same time) and vultures who finished off every last bit of what was left.

The rains finally did arrive with the inevitable coming of the wet season; torrential soaking downpours which initially made for a very muddy but much larger water hole. The grass and flowers grew prolifically and the water cleared as it always had. Now with only the sun bleached bones of the giraffes and zebras left, the antelopes of every kind were free to enjoy the wonderfully sweet water and all the adjacent succulent grass and bushes. Of course, that was until the massive horned kudu started eying the long horned oryx ...

And somewhere in another part of the globe the senator from a west coast state droned on at the podium for his umpteenth straight hour, while his fellow Democrats of various stripes earnestly chatted among themselves, all the while carefully watching their Republican colleagues. But all the Republicans of various spots listened to his every word, while keeping a wary eye on all the Democrats, as well as pressing the "no" buttons before there was even a vote. And the two independent senators sat quietly drinking some crystal clear water, hoping for a better day.

Article © Ken Dubuque. All rights reserved.
Published on 2018-06-04
Image(s) are public domain.
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