Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Crossing -

On a hot afternoon on Kenya's Mara, Tirian, our Maasai guide and friend, maneuvered the hefty safari vehicle into a tiny open spot on the edge of the river bank high above the beached crocodiles. They sunned their 12-15 foot bodies, almost grinning, eyes closed, menacing teeth, their jaws clamped shut whilst waiting. 
We waited too. A couple of hours in the heat, watching for signs, listening for sounds. . . . . . . . would they come, would it happen?

There is no insurance available to guarantee viewing a migration crossing as part of a safari. There is only patience, and of course a great guide who will work diligently to make it part of your visit to the Maasai Mara if you are there at the right time of the year.

It's amazing how quiet these huge animals can be, moving in herds over the bush with barely a sound. Plodding in straight lines one behind the other, giant bulls, mothers with babies, staring ahead or stopping and staring at you!
Nowhere in the world is there a movement of animals as immense as the wildebeest migration. Over two million animals migrate in the search of greener pastures, following the rains which nourish the often completely dry ground.

The annual flow of African animals in the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem is known as the Great Migration. The 1.7 million wildebeest, together with 350,000 Thomson's gazelle, 200,000 zebra and 12,000 eland, make the daring crossings of the Mara River. The exact timing of their progress varies depending on rainfall and sprouting fresh grasses. They usually cross into Kenya around June then make their way around the Mara through July, August and September, before their return to the Serengeti sometime in late September and October. During their time in the Mara the animals have to cross the Mara River where the crocodiles lie in wait for them, an event that is spellbinding, horrifying and spectacular.

On this September afternoon, word was out. Radios crackled, mobile phones rang, Land Rovers and Land Cruisers braked, guides chatted back and forth in languages such as Ma and Swahili. In these photos you can see other safari vehicles vying for a good spot with a view and, before we could steady our cameras, it began. . . . . . . . . 

. . . . . . the wildebeest herd which had been walking past us for a couple of hours, started to cross the Mara River, hippos moved out of the way to the bank, but crocodiles silently slid into the murky water all around.

It's almost impossible to put into words what happened in the following eleven minutes! Yes that's all it took for perhaps close to a thousand wildebeest of all ages and sizes, to cross the narrow river from the flat bank on our side to a mad scramble up the steeper bank on the opposite side!  The movement of the heaving mass of horned bodies through the water turned from brown to gleaming wet pewter, and all the while the huge crocodiles swam about grabbing the smaller animals, drowning them quickly.

At the end there were a few wildebeest still trying to decide whether to cross, but most then turned back. Within minutes all was quiet and it was almost like a dream. The hippos went back to swimming or lounging on the sand, the crocodiles floated down river with their evening meal taken care of. . . . . . . . . . . 

. . . . . . .and when we pulled away from our spot on the bank, almost speechless at what we had just experienced, we were still surrounded by thousands more wildebeest, and this lovely Topi antelope, spread across the golden plain most likely contemplating the greener grass across the river and trying to decide when they would make their crossing during the days to come. In reality there is no single "migration" as the wildebeest have neither a start or finish in their endless search for water and the new green shoots of grass on which they feed. These are quite amazing animals and seeing a crossing was certainly a highlight of our safari.

Where we viewed the migration crossing was several miles from our camp. The long drive back from the river was a time to think about what we had experienced, and we knew how fortunate we were to be there at the right time, thanks to Tirian.

Tirian taking us 'home' to camp . . . . . . . . . 

. . . . . . . and yes, often rough and rocky along the way!

We arrived back around sunset and still the wildebeest herds were moving, silently, all in one direction, through the bush alongside us - another day might see these at the Mara River taking the plunge and heading for greener pastures. It was a day to remember and a privilege to have viewed what many people sadly miss.

Stay tuned, more Africa stories yet to come!


  1. Just to see that many animals all in one spot is pretty incredible. Their migration movements are amazing!

  2. Dear Mary, Oh my! What an experience. I have seen these migrations on television and can barely stand to watch it. I can only imagine how very powerful the experience must have been for you. Sometimes I wonder what those ugly crocodiles are good for...but of course, that is silly.
    These are spectacular photographs Thank you for sharing.

  3. Thank you for wonderful photographs.

  4. A wonderful post, Mary, I felt like I was almost beside you as I read your narrative and looked at the photos. An amazing sight to see, full of the beauty and ugliness of nature as it is. Just stunning.

  5. Amazing! I do wonder if the visitors are too close to this supposed to be wild life!

  6. I am absolutely enthralled by your photos and stories! Just totally unbelievable that you were there in person to witness all this, wasn't it?

  7. Amazing - stunning - almost speechless. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Mary, Your photos are amazing. I have seen other quite graphic ones from several friends who have gone on this adventure, and they all speak of it with awe. Thank you for sharing your trips with us. I really enjoy following your adventures. Linda

  9. Mary, I am speechless. So spectacular, really. And that you witnessed such a migration up close - WOW.


  10. How amazing! And how fortunate to have a guide to share this spectacular experience with you. Your pictures are truly wonderful.

  11. Incredibly suspenseful! My nerves probably could not have taken it. I barely made it through the telling! =D Well told and beautifully photographed.

  12. Your photos are amazing to see Mary. What an exciting time to view these wildebeest crossing the river. Really quite incredible!!

  13. Really incredible photos of the wildebeest migration in particular. So amazing. So glad you got to xp it adn then include the photos for us here. I did enjoy my "virtual" safari--and no heat or bugs! :) Well, maybe there weren't any but I imagine it so, rightly or wrongly as the case may be.


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