Wildebeest Migration Safari Popularity
The annual migration of the wildebeest and zebra between Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve and the neighbouring Serengeti National Park in Tanzania never ceases to attract thousands of visitors, and this year was no exception. The months of August and September saw herds of tens thousands of wildebeest peppering the grasslands of the Mara from the banks of the Talek River and paradise Plains to the open savannah of the Mara conservancy in the South.
The Wildebeest Migratory Chants
The spectacle of so many gnu-all facing the same direction, heads down and grazing placidly, or doggedly zigzagging in single file from one horizon to another, or cavorting crazily in energetic bursts of speed-can mesmerize for hours. The back-lit gilded beards of a line of wildebeest, lowing a monotonous chant like so many ancient saddhus as they solemnly walk out of an amber sunrise, is a memory I shall long treasure.
River Crossing Finale
But the draw for wildebeest migration-watchers is the chance of seeing ‘a crossing’. The ultimate obstacle for the plodding gnu and the zebra lies in wait across their path like a writhing, voracious serpent. The Mara River twists and meanders, by turns glinting as the sunlight dances over rocky rapids or flushed with moody foreboding when clouds cover the sky, and –momentarily- stops the animals in their tracks. A huge obstruction for the wildebeest and zebra migration, the river is always the cause of many animals’ deaths.
Wildebeests on the edge
Usually the wildebeest approach its banks in a heightened state of tension. Nervous of they-know-not-what, yet aware that they must get across to the ‘promised land’ on the other side, where the scent of rain and new grass is on the breeze; wildebeests they will panic and flee at the slightest sign of danger. A change in the direction of the wind, the suspicious form of a log floating down river, the lazy flapping of a vulture’s wings as it takes off from the opposite bank- can cause the entire herd to turn tail and gallop away. It might take them another hour or two to muster up the courage to venture back to the water’s edge.
The Valor of the Zebra
Frequently, it’s the zebra that lead the herds across the river. They appear to contemplate the rive more calmly, anxiously watching for any signs of crocodiles and sniffing the air for any telltale smell of death that might linger from an earlier crossing. Often a small family of zebra will make its way to the front of the herd and tentatively drink at the shore. If the stallion feels confident there is no untoward danger lucking nearby, he will cautiously lead his family across the river, walking out into the water until he is forced to swim, striking out against the current. Once his family is swimming along behind him, the wildebeest soon follow.
Why the trouble?
The thrill and awe in the annual wildebeest and zebra migration in the Maasai Mara is the will and zeal of the animals to overcome the river crossings. The reality is that the animals will eventually cross. The wildebeests have to. Something in the wildebeest make-up, an instinctive urge far stronger than the one of self-preservation, tells them to press on. The intuition to move on to new grass is more deeply ingrained in wildebeests than the unimaginable terrors of crossing the river. Finally the front runners of the herd succumb to the pressure from the back, and all of a sudden, the wildebeests are tumbling over one another to reach the river and get across it and over with.
Wildebeest migration safaris are arranged with your tour operator or ground handler. The gnu safari will usually entail an overnight transit night at one of the many Nairobi hotels. Transfer to your lodge in the Maasai Mara takes about 4hrs by road and 30 min by air. Your operator will be able to make the necessary arrangements for you. Booking 3 or more months in advance in the Maasai Mara Lodges and camps is not unusual as the demand for beds far outstrips the supply. Enjoy your next wildebeest migration safari escapade.
Robert is a tour consultant and co-owner of Landmark Safaris Ltd in Kenya. He is degreed in Tourism management and conservation. More information: http://www.landmarksafaris.com/planner/ Your free safari photos: http://www.eastafricasafari.blogspot.com