Although the Masai Mara is “Big 5” territory, the main attraction here is the Wildebeest Migration. Zebras migrate along with the Wildebeest but the Wildebeest are so numerous that the Zebras are hardly noticeable among them.
The Wildebeest spend their lives moving in a big circle from the Serengeti in Tanzania, to the Masai Mara in Kenya, and back again. If they live long enough to complete the journey that is, as predators follow them every step of the way.
You know who else follows these guys around? Tourists! Contrary to what Africa documentaries might lead you to believe, you won’t be alone out here.
No worries, this place is humongous and there is simply no way it can ever feel crowded.
The Mara river cuts the Masai lands in two sections and lodges are located on both sides of the river. Going across is not allowed. Whichever side your lodge happens to be in, that’s the side you’ll stay on. Good thing animals don’t follow human rules and there are so many of them, they are impossible to miss. The Wildebeest don’t all cross the river at once, they do it in groups and so there are many crossings to be seen every day for a few weeks. The trick is being at the correct bend of the river at the right time to witness it. Guides will park their jeeps early to get a good spot.
Others start crowding in soon enough. There is a lot of waiting involved and everyone here wants to have the “best view”, thus fights occasionally ensue. Sometimes a latecomer will squeeze in between two other parked jeeps and stop just a few feet ahead blocking visibility for those who had been waiting for hours. Yelling, cursing and engine revving follows. Eventually someone backs down, someone moves, someone leaves. It’s all part of the adventure!
Wildebeest are very skittish.
Even Elephants will scare them away from the water.
Having so many people scrambling to see them tends to frighten the Wildebeest away from the river. After waiting for hours, it would happen that a group about to cross would bolt away frightened by an aggressive driver. Our guide, Jackson, would get mad and complain that the Warden from the opposite side of the river didn’t keep those drivers under control. I wonder if drivers on the other side complained about us in the same manner.
As Wildebeest begin gathering, vultures do the same undoubtedly waiting for the tragedy about to unfold. The Wildebeest would mill about for hours,
growing in numbers
until the itch to cross would overpower one of them. As soon as that first one jumped in,
the others would follow.
Eventually there would be so many jumping in that even hippos would get out of their way.
We were lucky: we were able to witness three separate river crossings, each one completely different to the others. The third one took us entirely by surprise. It was our last afternoon here and we were coming back from our foray into the Serengeti. Jackson stopped the jeep at the river’s edge for a sundowner. We all got off to stretch our legs and take pictures of the river while Jackson went looking for a tree. The opposite bank of the river was deserted and there were no other cars around.
As we looked at the hippos below us, these guys came out of nowhere and began gathering.
We were all struck dumb watching. As suddenly as they appeared, they began jumping into the water.
This mother and her calf swam with all their strength.
They hadn’t seen who was waiting right below our feet.
The current was too strong for the calf and it began calling to its mother.
As if on cue, the crocodile slipped noiselessly into the water and fast approached.
The mother was frantic on the bank of the river calling for her calf.
It only took a few seconds.
We were frozen in place watching the drama unfold below us. Jackson must have gotten worried at our lack of noise and he came over to see what we were doing. When he saw the Wildebeest crossing he began screaming at us to get into the jeep. See, getting down from the jeep at a crossing is forbidden. We didn’t get down at a crossing though, the Wildebeest began crossing at the place where we had already gotten down. Same thing, screamed Jackson and ushered us into the jeep. Just in time too as the guards came around at precisely that moment. We could still hear the mother Wildebeest calling for her child as Jackson drove us away.
He stopped the jeep a bit farther off but by then, the Wildebeest had stopped crossing and the river had become a Crocodile fest
while the Hippos looked on.
Being witness to the Great Migration was an incomparable privilege and one which we won’t soon forget.