The Great Wildebeest Migration
Five hundred wildebeest gather on the cliff edge waiting for the first one to descend and start the crossing of the Mara River. One drops over, either by desire or by being pushed by the crush of the crowd behind it. The living landslide starts as the beests pour over the edge, like the sands in an hourglass and plunge into the river. And so another crossing of the Mara River begins in the Masai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya, Africa.
The crossing of the Mara is just one of a number of river crossings that the wildebeests encounter as they trek their annual migratory route. The great wildebeest migration has been called one of the greatest wildlife shows on earth. 1.5 to 2.0 million wildebeest and 200,00 zebras move in a constant cycle of birth to death from the plains of the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Masai Mara in Kenya, then continue back to the Serengeti. It’s a continuous cycle, with no beginning or end.
If there is a beginning, it would be at the moment of birth or better yet, at the 3 weeks of birthing. 400,000 calves are born over a 3-4 week period in January/February in the Serengeti. In 3-5 hours they are ready to run with the herd. From mid May to July the herd travels north, following the rains and rain- fed grass. They cross the border from Tanzania to the Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya, where, they reside through October.
While in the Masai Mara, they will cross the Mara river many times because “the grass is always greener on the other side” of the river. There is no set schedule or location. Sometimes it may be twice in a day, other times there may be no crossing for days.
We departed our tented camp at 6:30am for the Mara river. Traveling over rutted roads and through muddy streams filled with wildebeest and zebras, we arrived at the edge of the Mara ravine just minutes before the “tipping point”. We were fortunate to see only 5 other safari vehicles (the day before there were 50-60 vehicles) waiting for the event. We positioned our vehicle on the edge of the ravine with a view into the river. We waited. Within ten minutes the first beest descended over the edge. Seconds later, hundreds followed on its heels, plunging into the river and swimming against a strong current to the other side.
In addition to a strong current and potential drownings, the Mara river is infested with crocodiles. The very first crossing of the season, when the crocs are the hungriest, is the most dangerous for the wildebeest. The crocs have a feast, gorge themselves on wildebeest, then are content for 2-3 months between meals. The crossing in this video clip contains no crocodile feasting.
In October the migration moves south back to the Serengeti and the cycle continues.
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