Ahhhh…. The Annual Wildebeest Migration. Quite literally, the Greatest Show on Earth, and that’s no exaggeration. There is nothing like it anywhere in the world.
Of course, the name is a complete misnomer since it isn’t just wildebeest making the trek. It is vast, undulating herd of zebra and impala, gazelle, topi and eland, extended families of elephant and giraffe along with resident hippo, warthog, baboon and Cape buffalo. A teeming, writhing, rumbling mass of frenzy and fury, grazing and rutting, birth and death. A moving landscape that creates its own eco-system as it marches ever forward in a steady rhythm across 6,000 square miles of the Maasai Mara and the adjoining Serengeti Plain.
And with the prey comes the mighty predator. Gorging themselves on this season’s bountiful buffet are lion, leopard and cheetah just to name a few. There are also the scavengers — aggressive packs of hyena and wild dog on land; massive and opportunistic crocodile in water.
Such a large concentration of warm blooded animals bring out hoards of insects too, all the better to feed the unique and colorful bird life currently nose diving face first into the fray.
Safely ensconced in our jeep we are sitting in a line up watching and waiting for the fun to begin. “What fun,” you ask? Why a river crossing, of course!
Thousands of wildebeest and zebra, buddies for sure, have been stacking up on the far side of the river bank. They hesitantly move forward then circle on back around… waiting… waiting… for that one brave soul to make the first leap.
And then… they are OFF!!! Jumping, diving, pushing, shoving, clouds of dust obliterating the scene then clearing off in the light breeze… and they keep coming, five minutes pass. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes. There is no end in sight.
The bank of the river closest to us is muddy and steep and the wildebeest struggle to regain their footing, as the zebra approach the same area they see the problem and swim 30 feet down river to an easy out area… but those wildebeest, they stick with where they are, struggling in vain to free themselves from the slick mud.
A giant croc surveys the scene and quickly moves in for the kill. A quick snap of his huge jaws and a wildebeest is culled from the herd, when last seen it was drifting slowly downriver with a lone zebra following along the shoreline bellowing with alarm.
As the rest of the herd moves forward, moms reunited with their babies breathe an audible sigh of relief.
My heart is pounding and my brain is fried. To be witness to such an event is raw and deeply primal, touching off that fight or flight response so engrained in our DNA. In the blink of an eye I have seen courage and fear, brilliance and stupidity, resilience and resignation; it is a feeling of being at one with the glories of nature and then graciously being allowed to retreat unscathed.
Did I take photos? Thousands. Video? Of course (see above). But this, my friends, is simply not something that can be conveyed by internet, film or photo… this is something that cries out to be experienced firsthand. So go ahead and move that African Safari to the top of your bucket list, you’ll be glad you did.
Here’s a tidy tip for you Americans out there: Most airlines will route you through Europe on your way to Africa which is time consuming and, in the case of a delayed flight, can be very costly. South African Airways flies direct from the USA and connects through Johannesburg on the way to your final destination. I don’t know about you but if my flight is delayed I find it comforting to know that, if nothing else, I am at least on the right continent.