The Great Migration (Memories of the Maasai Mara Series)

herds of zebra and wildebeest as part of the great migration

A zebra is attacked during a river crossing of the great migration

Safety in numbers is not a mentality which is restricted to the same species or family group.

The Great Migration is an example of how a number of species including wildebeest, gazelle and zebra can travel in unity, seeking protection and grazing opportunities. Following them are other species who can benefit.

We watched for hours as the numerous herds traversed the plains and the eagles scavenged on the carcasses of the young and vulnerable left behind.

Following the meandering lines of the Great Migration, we stumbled upon a river crossing. Here, hundreds of Wildebeest gathered at the riverside, hooves dug firmly into the dirt, resisting the ever increasing pressure from the driving animals at the rear of the line. As the pressure built, one brave wildebeest took tentative steps down the riverbank…I’d watch, heart in my mouth, expecting to hear the splash of water. Time after time the panicked wildebeest would instead retreat up the banks and flee into the encroaching masses, causing mass hysteria and confusion. The mass of wildebeest would turn and retreat en mass. It was a dignified panic, characterised by no noise other than the thudding of hooves on the soft ground, as dust was thrown into the air. This is when I took the opportunity to take this shot.

Lying in wait in the river below are a dozen crocodiles, skulking against the river’s current. Their tails occasionally move to the left…to the right…as they glide almost seamlessly.

As the pressure builds from the back of the  herd they are eventually pressurised into the crossing the river by the zebras shepherding them across the water. 10% of the animals that cross the Mara River will be sacrificed. The cautious and brave few who are mobilised to commence the crossing survive . We watched as the crocodiles stalked the crossing, seemingly avoiding the ‘obvious’ choices and being very deliberate in their decision as to which wildebeest or zebra to attack and when. Lone wildebeest, solitary zebras – obvious targets – passed unscathed. There is no benefit to the crocodiles in causing premature bedlam. 10, 20, 50 may cross before the crocodiles make their claim.

The eventual attack would lead to a frenzy of splashes,  kicks, but it’s last barely 30  seconds before the body was drowned and stored in underwater ‘chambers’ in the riverbed. The it’d start all over again…

Watching from the riverbank we found ourselves distanced from the pain. There are no screams. The kills are silent, bar the water splashing. No wildebeest or zebra mourns the passing of another – none look back. The scamper for the opposite river bank brings only relief and the respect that Africa’s Mother Nature is firm – tough, even – but not unnecessary. This is the circle of life.

This post is the 14th in the series “Memories of the Maasai Mara” and is an extract from the Taraji Blue book “Memories of the Maasai Mara” …

Ever since our first visit to Kenya in 2005 we’d fallen in love with the continent and had longed to return. For four years we’d played our Africa CDs daily and viewed our photos longingly, anticipating the day we would return. Back in 2009 we had our chance…

Each morning we bounded out of our beds and into the wilderness, eager and hopeful of what the day would bring. We owe much of our success to the fantastic guides and staff of the Kicheche Bush Camp, Mara Safari Club and David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, who we cannot praise enough and to whom we long to return.

It is through our experiences and time in Kenya that we tell, and re-live, our memories of this amazing continent, and above all, of the Maasai Mara.

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