the great migration
A few days after we returned from our trip to the Maasai Mara, D had an incredibly vivid dream in which he was madly rushing around the savannah, stamping visas for wildebeest to facilitate their migration. Throughout the summer months, several million of these animals converge on the banks of the Mara river, which separates the Serengeti from the Mara. After exhausting the grasses on one side of the river, they cross en masse in search of greener pastures on the other side.
As we drove around the Maasai Mara, we passed thousands of wildebeest, all of which were slowly making their way to the water’s edge. When we got to the river around 1pm, there were hundreds of them – and almost as many safari vans – bunched up on the riverbank. However, none of them seemed particularly keen to brave the swim across. Wildebeest never take the initiative; rather, they wait for a zebra to lead the way into the river before they are willing to follow suit and take the plunge.
We cruised around for a while, but the wildebeest seemed content to just mill around the riverbank, so we decided to have lunch. Our guides pulled the vehicle into some some orange blossom bushes to escape the swarms of flies that followed the wildebeest across the plains. We were just wrapping up our picnic when we heard the revving of engines. We hurriedly packed and joined the fray. The river crossing had started.
By the time we arrived on the scene, there were so many vehicles vying for space that it was impossible for us to see much of anything. More importantly, most of the animals that jumped into the river had already crossed. As safari vans jockeyed for position to watch the crossing, they spooked the rest of the herd and only a few hundred animals wound up attempting the crossing. We felt a bit dejected that we missed it, but then our guides got word that the wildebeest were crossing at another location further downstream.
We rushed to the scene, racing past other vehicles, and got a slightly better line of sight this time around. Again, only a few animals crossed, the rest being deterred by what they saw transpire in the water. As four zebras led the way across the river, a crocodile cut them off and attacked several of the animals. To our surprise, despite latching on to one of the zebras and twisting it around with its massive jaws, the croc was unsuccessful and all of the animals emerged on the other side seemingly unscathed.
When it became clear that no more animals were willing to risk death at the lower crossing, we went back to the first point where we saw them cross. We staked out a spot with a good view of the water and waited. And waited…a couple of times a handful of zebras would descend to the water’s edge and drink from the river before scrambling back up the riverbank. Eventually, some intrepid wildebeest got tired of waiting for a zebra to lead them across and jumped into the water. As soon as they were in the river, a crocodile that had been hiding itself among the rocks on the other side swam out to meet them. This time, the ungulates were not as fortunate and one of them fell victim to the croc’s powerful jaws. Seeing that the predator was thus occupied, the rest of the herd decided that it was safe to jump into river and we finally got to see the crossing for which we were waiting.