Awesome Africa – The Annual Wildebeest Migration
Aditya Singh, Sanctuary Wildlfie Photographer of the year 2011, operates a small lodge, The Ranthambore Bagh, on the outskirts of the Ranthambore National Park. He is passionate about wildlife conservation and photography. Here, he shares his amazing experiences in the Masai Mara, where he went to photograph the annual migration of the wildebeest.
During our first week, we stayed at the Olarro campsite in the Mara Triangle on the banks of the Mara river. Though a basic bush camp, the campsite is located right in the heart of the area where the migration occurs. The grass was still green when we reached the Mara and the big herds of wildebeest had still not migrated from Tanzania and so we concentrated on the cats. We were richly rewarded with some great sightings of lions and cheetahs (my favourite cats).
In a few days, large numbers of wildebeest started crossing the border to enter the Masai Mara. Massive numbers of wildebeest marched or ran in a single line that sometimes extended as far as the eye could see. Their safety lies in their large numbers and throughout the year they keep moving all across the vast plains in search of grass. It is estimated that during the annual migration more than a million wildebeest cross over from Tanzania to the Masai Mara. Five days after we reached the Mara we saw our first river crossing. This is the event that we had gone for – one of the most spectacular wildlife events in the world.
During the next two days we saw several such river crossings. The wildebeest herd will wait at the water’s edge until one “leader” takes the plunge and then the entire herd will just follow the leader. The wildebeest prefer to cross at points where the currents are not strong and there is little or no vegetation on the other side. During a river crossing many animals die of drowning, trampling and a few are killed by predatory crocodiles. There are floating corpses all over the river and the vultures and other scavengers have a feast.
In week two of our stay, wesaw some spectacular thundershowers. The rain settled the dust and the light was amazing the next morning. The rain also “turbo charged” the migration. Occasional thundershowers are common between July and September in the Masai Mara. The rain comes down hard but usually does not last for a long time. These rains and the resultant growth of grasses attract the wildebeest, zebra and the other migrants into the Masai Mara. Rains are the generator that runs the migration. We saw more than 25 crossings in the second week.
At the end of the second week, we crossed the Mara river to go towards the Talek river. We had booked at the Mara Bush Camp, Sunworld Safari’s camp literally living in “Cat Central.” This area is particularly great for leopards, caracals and servals.
We started the week with a brilliant sighting of a leopard family and mating lions in great light. By the time the week ended we had seen seven different prides of lions and some solitary males, nine cheetahs, six leopards, a family of three caracals, lots of cat action, a great Bataleur Eagleand one river crossing. We returned to our basic camp in the Mara Triangle for the rest of the three weeks.
During the fifth week, we had regular sightings of three lion prides with small cubs. We saw a small but good river crossing on the second day of the week. For the next three days, we saw large herds of wildebeest gathering on the Mara Triangle side of the Mara river, but they refused to cross until the day before we were going to leave Masai Mara. This was the biggest crossing of my entire trip. It started early in the morning, which is unusual and went on well after dark.
It was sad to leave the Mara, but all good things do come to an end. This had been an unbelievable five weeks of my life – doing what I love best.
First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia Cub, May 2014.