It is that time of the year again when one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on earth arrives in the Masai Mara, in Kenya. The exact timing and the number of migrating wildebeest depend on the quantity of rain and where it has fallen.
“The visual spectacle is indescribable. Every sense is swimming. Your eyes stretch over unimaginable numbers of animals. Dust is everywhere. It is hot. The wildebeest grunts and groans surround you. The tension in the air is palpable as the masses build on the far bank of the Mara river.”~ Mike Haworth
The website Herdtracker indicates that the herds have arrived at the border of the Serengeti and Masai Mara National Park. The herds are travelling north into the Mara Triangle and Mara north where they will feed for about two months before starting to trek south again from October travelling down to Ndutu in the south of Serengeti to calf the frequency of which peaks around February each year.
“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes deep and permanent, in the ideas of the mind.”~ Miriam Beard
I have included a series of images taken during two wildebeest crossings at the Mara river Figtree crossing a couple of years ago. Around August-September, the wildebeest usually arrive from the Serengeti travelling into the Masai Mara in Kenya and you can see tens of thousands of them coming across the plains and down the hill slopes towards the Mara river.
As the numbers of wildebeest grow they start pushing the front animals towards the edge of the river bank which in some areas is an earthen cliff with drops of five to six metre down to a very steep embankment.
This drop is especially difficult for the calves being so much smaller than the adults. Amazingly, we never saw one animal break a leg coming down such a treacherous drop.
Once down, there is a strong compulsion to follow the others and the wildebeest launch themselves off the steep bank into the deep and fast flowing Mara river.
There is no particular leader in these group crossings, whoever plucks up the courage goes first, be it a calf or an adult bull.
Many of the wildebeest have crossed this river many times and know what danger lurks below the surface. The experienced ones have a really good look to try and locate the crocodiles. The river at this time of the year is normally carrying a lot of sediment making it a muddy brown colour so the wildebeest often cannot not see the crocodiles.
Once the leaders start crossing there is an overwhelming compulsion to follow on mass.
As the numbers of wildebeest crossing the river grows so more and more dust is stirred up and as you can see at times it becomes quite dark.
“We must not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know it for the first time.”~ Thomas Stearns Eliot
You can imagine the terror. These wildebeest are used to wide open spaces with clear air and all of a sudden they are pushed into an place which is darkened by thick dust. There are other wildebeest diving into the water all around you and you know there are massive Nile crocodiles waiting to ambush you as you cross.
Looking at the thin legs of the wildebeest, it is hard to believe they can swim effectively through the fast flowing Mara river.
“I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”~ Thomas Stearns Eliot
There is a huge advantage to individual animals crossing in a crowd. The chances of an individual being singled out by the crocodiles is substantially lower.
When the crossing begins it is every animal for itself. For most of the calves it would be their first crossing. It is hard to fathom the terror these youngsters must go through in this mad dash.
These adult wildebeest are swimming hard to cross the Mara river but the fast flowing current is pulling them down river. Often this means they end up on the other bank at an unintended spot which is difficult to exit.
This bull had swum half way across the Mara when for some inexplicable reason he stopped and came back to where he started. He was absolutely exhausted and could not walk out of the water back onto dry land despite the threat from crocodiles.
Flying wildebeest – an iconic image of these animals launching themselves terror stricken and panicked into the fast flowing muddy Mara River in the Masai Mara National Reserve.
The wildebeest crossings are truly spectacular both in terms of numbers and intensity. You will be moved by this natural phenomenon. The sheer terror in these animals eyes is clear to see. Terror or not, they have to cross to get to new pastures to feed.
In an article in Sciencedaily in June 2017, it was reported that an average of 6250 animals drown or are trampled crossing the Mara river each year. While this is a huge number, it is small in relation to the average of 1.2 million animals making the crossing during the year. The crossings usually peak along the Mara river in the three months from July to September.
“To those who stay put, the world is but an imaginary place. But to the movers, the makers and the shakers, the world is all around, an endless invitation.”~ Unknown
Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.
Have fun, Mike