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African Safari – The Wildebeest Migration
“One of the greatest spectacles in the world”. Many have described it this way. Many have returned time and time again. They have witnessed this mass movement of wild animals roaming free through unspoiled and wild wilderness. The air is filled with the tireless clicking of cameras. You haven’t seen anything like this before.
“Africa is changing at a rapid pace and human encroachment on wildlife reserves has continued to erase traditional routes. In conjunction with development and lifestyle changes, the image of wild animals roaming free is slowly being erased. For good luck, Masai Mara National Reserve retains its charisma of an open and boundless land. It is one of the places in Africa that still boasts a concentration of wildlife and everyone should see it.” Victoria, Washington.
Masai Mara is located in the southwest of Kenya, 180 kilometers from Nairobi. World famous for its abundance of wildlife and remoteness the reserve implants memories that no money can buy.
Migration is a recent phenomenon (the 60s and 70s were the biggest boom) with about 250,000 individuals and gradually over time the number has increased to the current population of over 3,000,000 individuals. Add to that a 1,500,000 Zebra rating and the result is one of the grandest scenes in the world. The massive display attracts hundreds of big cats as the populations provide abundant prey. Giant African crocodiles lie in wait, patiently, as large herds come to cross or water.
It is the Maasai community who are not so happy with the whole phenomenon: competing with wild animals for pasture and raising their large herds of Boran cattle on the pastures. For them it is a great disaster, especially because the “wild cattle” transmit diseases to their herds and poison the waters of their fetal sacs.
This world famous phenomenon is a circle of life which in simple terms means it has no beginning or end. Only where the herds are at a given time. The main determinant is the availability of pastures. The plains of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in the Serengeti are a favored location as grass is abundant and wild bees find safe places to graze. Also over 500,000 young calves are born here and many of them are taken by the jackals or hyenas that wait nearby.
The survivors have little time to strengthen their legs as the pilgrimage continues in April. By then, the rains have ended in the southern Serengeti and the plains have dried up. Then the great herds gather and face the long march north and west. Natural lawnmowers abandon the exhausted grasslands of the southern Serengeti to head for the now long grass of the Western Corridor, near the shores of Lake Victoria. The pioneers of the migratory movement are the majestic herds of zebras as they prefer long stalks of thick grass. This way they leave behind shorter grass for wildlife.
In late June to July, the masses begin to pour into Kenya’s Masai Mara reserve, where fresh, soft, mineral-rich grass already awaits. Here they meet the resident Mara population numbering around 150,000. Also commonly referred to as the Loita plains herds, they spend most of the season northeast of the Mara. When it dries up, it flows into the interior of the Mara in search of greener pastures.
Migratory herds spend approximately 3 to 31/2 months crossing the Mara through the Sand River which is a tributary of the Mara along the border of Kenya and Tanzania. They travel west and across the Mara River and sometimes the Talek River. Usually around this time heavy rains on the Mau Escarpment (origin of the Mara River) fill the Mara River to the brim. This is a good time to see trunk-looking crocodiles as they wait for their next feast.
Finally they jump into the river and this concerted behavior of the herd, sometimes joined by zebras, creates an unimaginable scene. They usually wander along the river looking for a suitable crossing point. This is usually a tense moment for both the gnus and the audience. They scout for a suitable crossing point, less steep and without obvious danger. Finally the man plucks up courage and dives into the river and magically the rest fall onto the tracks and in an organized line cross the river.
In addition to crocodiles, there are also dangers where the river current can be too strong for some to simply get stuck between rocks in the river and break limbs. This is a direct ticket to the jaws of giant crocodiles.
Finally the switch is made and the journey to their unknown (or known) destiny continues.
By October they have already left for the Serengeti, where the rains have treated the southern grasslands to a lush green carpet of rich grass. Once again they are heading to the southern plains where a new generation will be born to start the life cycle all over again.
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