The Moveable Feast
From the air, the herds looks like a vast black and tan army on the march. Endless columns of Wildebeest move south to the Mara River, assembling in staging areas as if preparing for an invasion of the Serengeti. Almost two million animals make the crossing, in groups of a few hundred to tens of thousands at a time, running a gauntlet of steep river banks, rushing water, slick rocks, teeth and claws.
The Wildebeest are food for literally everything, from the lions that hunt them, to the crocodiles that snatch them out of the water, to the vultures and storks that feed on the carcasses. Everything in the ecosystem – even the grass – depends on these sweet and rather stupid animals to stay nourished.
Some slip and break legs, some drown from exhaustion and some fall prey to the predators in the water and on land. Their losses are staggering but still the ones that make it vastly outnumber the ones that don’t. The river crossings that occur during the great migration in the Serengeti Mara ecosystem are often referred to as the greatest show on earth and for good reason. On a recent trip I saw 10,000 animals crossing, and the groups get much bigger than this. Think about it – when have you ever seen 10,000 of anything other than people at a sporting event or a concert. This is something else.
Timing is key, but if you’re in the northern Serengeti or the Maasai Mara between about mid July and the end of September, chances are excellent that you’ll see at least one crossing. Give yourself at least 3 nights in the area to maximize your chances. As well as your camera, you’re going to need a fair amount of patience since the crossings are very much of the ‘hurry up and wait’ variety. Leaving camp at dawn, your guide will quickly get reports as to where the wildebeest are massing in preparation for a crossing. Sometimes you’ll arrive and the crossing will start right away, and sometimes you’ll just have to settle in and wait for them to make up their minds. Rest assured, even if you have to wait for hours, your patience will be rewarded with one of the most incredible wildlife spectacles you will ever experience anywhere on the planet. And in a place where wildlife spectacle is standard, that’s really saying something. Thousands of animals driven by memory and an overwhelming instinct to move is like nothing you have ever seen. It’s beautiful, baffling, ridiculous and tragic all at the same time. The pictures above will hopefully give you a sense but there really is nothing quite like seeing it for yourself.
There’s a wide range of places to base yourself for the main event, everything from classic tented camps with bucket showers like Kimondo, to 5 star hilltop hideaways complete with your own plunge pool like Lemala Kuria Hills.
Dan Achber heads up Trufflepig’s planning in Africa and will gladly help you plan your own migration to East Africa to catch this greatest of all wildlife shows.