The Great Migration … in January and February, the wildebeest cows give birth on the southernmost Serengeti. In March, when the area begins to dry out, the herds begin the Great Migration; they follow the rains and the growth of new grass (by weather patterns or instinctive knowledge etched in their DNA, or both). In August, September and early October, the herds are in the Mara River region of Kenya. In this area, the river must be crossed and there are a number of places they can do this. It was also explained to us that while they are in this area, they can cross back and forth across the river multiple times.
Zebra and Wildebeest are good friends that move together while grazing and migrating. Although they both eat grass, zebra feed on tall grass and wildebeest feed on short grass, so there is no conflict there. Wildebeest have good hearing and a sense of smell (for detecting water) but bad vision and very poor memory (30-40 seconds, like some people I know). Zebras have good eyesight (for spotting predators such as crocodiles when crossing the river) and they also have good memory for remembering where safe migration routes are.
As you have seen from my pictures and video, animal sightings are numerous in the Masai Mara but an added attraction of being here at this time of year is to have the opportunity to see large numbers of wildebeest and zebras cross the river, while observing the dangers they face (jagged rocks in the river, crocodiles in the water, and lions, cheetah and hyena on the shore). To see a “crossing” is not guaranteed at this time of year. You can wait many hours for a crossing.
Our first experience around 11:30am was an “almost crossing”. Hundreds of zebra and wildebeest had built up on the far shore and a few zebra were drinking water and decided to cross. Once the crossing begins, it usually does not stop, so we were optimistic. As they started crossing the river, a small crocodile approached and went to attack the zebras in the water … the zebras saw it and they ran back out of the water to shore. What a shame, as the croc was probably too small to take a zebra, so we would have to wait to see a full crossing. The video below shows the croc chasing the zebras out of the water.But we only had to wait for an hour or so.
Our wait wasn’t long … around 1:00pm, we settled in at another crossing point, and a small group of zebra was drinking water. Eventually, a few cross the river and a crocodile is nearby, but he doesn’t seem to be too interested in the zebra.
Next morning, we got to experience a “proper” crossing (as the South Africans say). Hundreds of zebra and wildebeest cross the river after a big build-up. Words can’t describe it accurately, you have to see the video. This time, no crocodiles were really on the hunt so all wildebeest and zebra crossed safely, although a few did turn back when they were almost across.
The videos are below, as well as a few pictures taken during the crossings. The few wildebeest crossing pics are from my friend Hunter’s camera, I was shooting video.