Migration in full flow

This week I’m going to continue on the theme of the wildebeest migration. When the Wildebeest gather in huge numbers on the northern Serengeti getting ready to cross the Mara River with all its dangers. This is what attracts hundreds of tourists to the Maasai Mara in July and August.

Most people have heard of the great wildebeest migration, which also includes thousands of zebra, most have also seen footage of this spectacle on national geographic or similar programs. Although the event is often not as dramatic as seen on the TV as they spend weeks if not months filming before putting together the footage.

Having said that it can be, and often is very exciting and an amazing thing to witness. The one thing you need though is patience. You can be lucky and get to the river just as they are about to cross but most people spend hours, watching them gather, hesitantly go down to the edge of the water only to get spooked by something and run back up.

The other thing you need to understand is that it can get pretty crowded at the river, although protocol by the drivers has improved considerably over the last few years. At one time, no so long ago, the riverbank would be so crowded with cars that there was nowhere for the wildebeest to cross, which sort of defeats the purpose of being there. Now the drivers have been persuaded to stay back and give the wildebeest space. Once they start to cross though it is a free for all as vehicles rush to the riverbank all jostling for space.

So, we arrive at the Mara River at around 11 am. We found just a small gathering of wildebeest and zebra on our side of the bank that we thought might cross. There were almost as many vehicles as there were wildebeest.

After a while slowly, very slowly they make their way towards the river. Eventually, the group descend to the water’s edge, and after taking a drink, two zebra take the initiative and enter the water to cross, followed by two more and then two wildebeest, suddenly there was a loud call from one of the zebra still on the bank, this caused confusion and fear amongst the waiting wildebeest, as one, they turned and ran back up the bank to wait and graze again. So, it was a very small and uneventful crossing.

Along the whole length of the river, there are numerous locations where wildebeest and zebra choose to cross. We noticed another gathering a little further along, so together with all the other vehicles we raced off to the next spot, hoping for better luck next time.

This looked more promising, it was a much larger group and as they grazed the occasional call of the zebra mingled with the constant loud grunting of the wildebeest made it a very noisy place. Everyone was exited at the thought of watching these hundreds of animals cross the river into the Mara Triangle.  We had a nice view of the crossing point, so we settled down to wait, and wait, and have lunch and wait some more.

The tension was building, the guides were looking for signs, everyone was eager for the show to begin. When it did start it was the wildebeest that took the lead. As they scrambled down the bank and plunged into the river the cars all moved in, including ours. Our driver is very skilled, he focused on the best position, very smoothly moved in, not letting anyone cut in and held his ground, we had a great view. Once it started there was no stopping them, as they splashed through the river and scrambled up the opposite bank oblivious to any danger.

Just then Alison pointed to a single wildebeest that had strayed away from the bulk of the herd, he was splashing around and looked as if he was in trouble, that’s when I saw the large Nile crocodile appear from below.

He skillfully circled the lone wildebeest stopping at the hind quarters then opened his huge mouth and locked his massive jaw on to the back of the struggling wildebeest. Blood seeped from the bite turning the water red. Another crocodile silently slid into the water from the bank to join forces with the first. There was no hope for the wildebeest, despite making every effort to reach the other side the crocodile was too strong for him, inch by inch he was steadily dragged back out to the middle of the river where it is deep enough to drown, which is how 

the croc’s kill their prey, they will take their prey and stash it somewhere under the water to feast on later. This is the only casualty of the whole crossing, so I suppose it could be called a success.

The vehicles start to disperse, it has been a very long day but well worth the wait, I can understand why so many people want to witness this in real life. Reluctantly we head for home. 

We stop again briefly further downstream where three crocodiles are resting on the water’s edge, one of them slid into the water, I watched as he glided toward another crocodile that was already in the water but that I had not even noticed. The jaws of the other crocodile held the flesh of an earlier kill, and this crocodile wanted a share. The croc that held the meat had other ideas trying to evade the croc coming straight for him but to no avail. There was a brief struggle, the two crocs thrashing about in the river until the first croc got a share, then the water became calm once more.

. At this time of year food is plentiful for all the predators, both in the water and on land. The wildebeest are so important to the eco system here in the Mara, it helps to sustain the many large cats that the Mara is also famous for.

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