We were privileged to see four major crossings in our six days in the Masai Mara in October 2021. All the crossings were along the Bottom River road section of the Mara river between Peninsula and Miti Moja. The Bottom River road gives a good view from the west side of the river looking east towards Look Out Hill. From here you can see the wildebeest moving over Look Out Hill and on down towards the river and get a good idea of how big the crossing could be.
“Wilderness without wildlife is just scenery.” ~ Lois Crisler.
This particular morning the crossing started at around 6h30. The herd massed on a large flat section on the east bank of the Mara river. The wildebeest lingered on top of the bank for sometime and eventually the first animals began to descend the deep ruts in the steep bank. These ruts were created by hundreds of animals in previous crossings.
Invariably the rut turns out to be a one way route because of the steepness. Once an animal starts down the rut it is committed to cross the river because of all the animals following down the rut behind it.
Wildebeests’ legs are strong but thin and their hooves are not shaped for effective swimming so it is little wonder there is a momentary pause before the leap.
The wildebeest dive off the edge of the bank into the fast flowing muddy water.
“Life is a journey which never lets you know when and where it will end.” ~ Biju Karakkonam
Some of the ruts although deep are very steep and once an animal has entered one of these ruts it is effectively a one way head long controlled fall.
“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.” – T.S. Eliot
At times in their panic the animals dive in on top of each other but seem to survive.
Different routes down the bank create different entry points and some are significantly less steep and dramatic than others.
For some inexplicable reason, some of the wildebeest descend the bank and enter the water only to decide that it is not the best place to swim across the river. They then try to move along the bank at the water’s edge looking for a more suitable launching place.
Incredibly the calves dive in after the adults. A calf is usually following its mother and it is probably its first time crossing the Mara river. The calf is on its own once in the river. There is nothing its mother can do to help it.
“You may not find a path, but you will find a way.” ~ Tom Wolfe
Once in the fast flowing river the wildebeest swim across in a wide arc, frantically swimming with their heads facing upstream.
You can see the fear and panic in their eyes.
Seeing other wildebeest climbing out of the other side the river must encourage those on the eastern bank to move forward. There is still an equally steep climb back up the western bank and if that is not enough there are, at times, lions and leopards waiting to ambush them in the bushes. The hyaenas hang around a few hundred metres from the river to pick off those animals that cannot run away because they were injured during the crossing.
“We must not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.” ~ T. S. Eliot
Considering the drama and difficulty for the animals crossing the Mara river, their odds of surviving the crossing are good. Around 6 200 wildebeest die in crossing each year, which in the context of over one million crossing, are reasonable odds.
“Wildlife is something which man cannot construct. Once it is gone, it is gone forever.” ~Joy Adamson.
Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.
Have fun, Mike