Every year, over two million wildebeest and zebra make their way around the Serengeti/Masai Mara ecosystem, following the rains and the green grass that follow. The highlight of this dangerous journey (at least for wildlife photographers) is the crossing of the Mara River in Kenya. This is probably one of the most documented wildlife spectacles in the world, and with good reason.
The wildebeest can gather for days on the banks of the river, plucking up the courage to make the crossing. There is an ebb and flow; a back and forth as their bravery builds, which is quickly diminished when they get close to the water. Everyone is waiting for the first wildebeest to jump in. All this waiting only adds to the excitement. Eventually, one brave fellow makes the move. As soon as the first hoof touches the water a stampede begins, and up to twenty thousand wildebeest and a few hundred zebra start panicking and blindly follow the rump in front of them. When the first wildebeest cross, they choose the best point to enter the river, but a point that also has a good exit (crocodiles aside, most animals perish at the exit). Once the mega herd has entered the water, the current takes the herd downstream, often to a point in the river that doesn’t have an exit, leaving the animals swimming to their demise. This is where the crocodiles come in. They are smart animals, having played this game for many decades. The crocodiles don’t waste their energy on fit and strong individuals that have just entered the river, they target the poor chaps that are swimming around aimlessly, getting more and more tired.
There are many great individual triumphs through all the commotion. A very large percentage of the animals that cross the Mara River make it to the other side, and carry on the cycle. It is extremely uplifting to watch a wildebeest or zebra fight the odds; the crocodiles, the current, the stampede and blocked exit points and make it out the other side, to fight another day.
All of this adds up to an experience that is actually quite difficult to explain, but the same comment keeps coming up when people try to describe it – you have to experience it!
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