Crossing madness

31 05 2013

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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2012 in review

31 12 2012

Thanks to everyone for all the support during 2012!

I have put together a quick collection of highlights from the year for you, and want to wish you an incredible 2013 with plenty of good sightings, all of them in great light!

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Caught between a rock and a hard place

27 09 2012

The famous river crossings in Kenya’s Masai Mara are usually filled with excess drama and action, but every so often, one individual’s story catches your attention. I was taking a photographic safari to witness these magnificent crossings, and found myself engrossed with the plight of one young wildebeest.

The crossing had a normal start to it; hours of back and froth from the mega herd of wildebeest, followed by more waiting. The herd had built up nicely, and we were in for a massive crossing – if, of course, the wildebeest decided to jump in and get started. As it turned out, the zebras, unusually, took the lead, but started crossing a little further downstream than usual. This meant that together with the fear, panic and strong river current, the wildebeest now had to contend with rocks! Most of them dealt with the new obstacle by simply jumping over them. In a fantastic display of athleticism (and action photography), all but one youngster cleared the rocks without any problem.
The young wildebeest had somehow managed to wedge his hips into the rocks underwater. I am not sure how he got that right, but he was firmly wedged in. He struggled bravely for a good half hour, before his struggles got the attention of a passing croc. The monster of a croc came right into the action to see what all the splashing was about, and found himself face to face with the trapped wildebeest. There was a cruel ten second stare down as the croc, with a huge weight advantage, sorted through the options, before it lunged out of the water and grabbed the young wildebeest by the horn. I don’t think the croc was fully aware of the wildebeest’s predicament, because he couldn’t get him out of the rocks. A second reset, and he was better prepared. The wildebeest, understandably panicked, was trying his best to get free from the rocks, but to no avail. The croc had come in for a second attempt at an easy meal, and pulled the wildebeest free from the rocks, and down into the water.

It is not always easy witnessing nature unfold, and I certainly felt for the young wildebeest. The whole situation made for some interesting images, ones that documented an unusual event.

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