Life is short. This story is proof of that.
Philip and Ingrid were photographing for their book Beautiful Deserts – The Big Picture in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in South Africa when they witnessed the birth of a springbok. Normally these antelope give birth just after the first rains, but the rains had not yet fallen and this one arrived early – it was the only springbok born in the whole area.
While driving along a dry riverbed the Van den Bergs noticed a springbok ewe and at first glance her appearance seemed strange. On closer inspection, they saw that she was giving birth while trying desperately to act normal – she continued to feed, pretending that the lamb falling to the ground behind her was nothing extraordinary. She was trying her best to fool the predators.
When the lamb dropped, she started licking it, nudging it to life. It tried to get to its feet a few times, but it was unsteady on its oversized legs and fell down again and again.
The Van den Bergs attempted to take photographs despite their great amusement – the sight of a newborn springbok struggling to get to its feet is endearing but actually quite hilarious.
Fortunately, they both used image-stabilizing lenses, which rescued the shots from camera shake caused by their giggles.
It was a brightly overcast day, so although it was late morning, they could still photograph as the sunlight was diffused and soft. They opted for weaker lenses and used a 70-200mm f2.8 and 300mm f2.8 lens respectively to concentrate on the interaction between mother and young, in order to tell the story.
The mother walked away, leaving this poor lamb with the oversized ears and useless legs lying in the middle of the riverbed.
For hours the Van den Bergs waited for the mother to return, but she had seemingly abandoned him and left him lying, a useless bundle, breathing deeply and looking up at them with wide, watery eyes.
This was too much for Philip and Ingrid and they decided to take a short drive. When they returned a while later they saw, to their delight, that the mother had returned, and this time the lamb successfully got to its feet and was following her down the riverbed in a zig-zag manner. All involved were delighted – although the ewe pretended not to care.
The next morning Philip and Ingrid went on a game drive during which they came upon four cheetah walking down the same riverbed. Excitedly they followed. Then all four cats went into stalking mode and started sprinting. To their distress, and right in front of them, the Van den Berg’s saw them catch and kill the newborn springbok.
After the cheetahs had finished their breakfast, a Tawny eagle came along, fed on the remains of the carcass, and flew away with one of the very long legs of the springbok lamb dangling in its claws.
Life is short. For some, just one day.