Wildebeest Crossing (Maasai Mara stories – 3)

The main thing about Maasai Mara in July-August, which also defines its “peak season” is the presence of wildebeest. Given the heavy species count there, I did wonder what the presence of wildebeest adds. Turned out, it makes a lot of difference. They are there everywhere. The large presence of a prey species also brings out a lot more predators, and there are thus a lot more kills.
Wildebeest traffic

Their presence is so heavy, that you actually see a lot of carcasses and skulls strewn all over the landscape. There are wildebeest of all ages visible for you. Right from the newly born to the dead carcasses.
Wildebeest carcass

They move in from the Eastern side of Maasai Mara from the Serengeti of Tanzania. They make their way west grazing the grass until they reach the Mara river. Then they have to do the crossing. This is where crocodiles come into the picture. No wonder its a major tourist draw. What’s so special about a species crossing and getting trapped by crocs? As our guide put it – “Only wildebeest and Zebras cross the Mara River. Lions, impalas, cheetahs, Topi, Gazelles, elephants, buffalo – all that stay this side of the Mara spend their lives this side of the Mara. Those that live that side of the Mara live that side of the Mara. They never cross the river.”

You can notice the grazing patterns as you drive west. The landscape starts from short, grazed grass barely a few centimetres tall, to the taller half a metre length hay of the west.
Buffalo crossing<
Wildebeest path

After running into increasingly denser Wildebeest traffic we reached the river around lunch time. The marker, from far away was the vehicles. Again, quoting our guide – “See all those vehicles lined up there? That’s the Mara river.” Very interesting way to describe a river that flows through one of the most iconic wildlife spots on the Planet.
Mara river, safari vehicles lying in wait

There was a fair bit of Wildebeest traffic at the river. They weren’t crossing though.
Mara river
Wildebeest line up on the other side of the Mara
We found one point and stopped there. There was a little bee-eater flitting about and kept us interested.
Little bee-eater
We kept getting excited that the wildebeest were about to cross, as some kept descending down the steep embankment, but our guide was unfazed. Sure enough they came right back up.
Some decide to take the lead in crossing
Decide not to cross now

We looked across to the other side and there were two crocodiles basking. It wasn’t a dense set by any measure.
Basking crocodile
Crocodile moves up to the sun from the water

We decided to have our lunch there. The lodge had packed a multigrain bun with some butter, and (surprise!) a chapathi and some rice with a packet of Chole Masala.

Just as we were finishing lunch, the guide announced that they were about to cross. Sure enough, we could see the first batch wading across the river. It’s one of those things that you need to watch in real to experience.
River traffic

There is palpable tension in the way they cross. They know they need to go across, and know the risks that come with it. It makes them do stupid things at times, and make it all the more difficult undoing it when they make mistakes. You can feel the relief they feel when they make it across, when they jump across any other herd member that might be slow to get out of the water. It is almost human.
Safely across
Making it safely
Reverse crossing

The crocs continued to bask in the Sun. They were clearly not interested. Probably had their fill a few days back. We went over to another part of the bank, and also saw hippos basking in the water.
Wallowing hippos in the Mara river

Here one herd was waiting on the other side, and two of their members were struggling up. They eventually climbed up.
Struggling up
Finally a foothold
We then realised what had gone wrong. The herd had crossed the river, gotten into one embankment but couldn’t really climb up to the other side because the final climb to the other side was too steep. It was just a bad decision.
Crossed, but stuck
They were now stuck. They weren’t keen on risking the water again. They couldn’t make the final climb as it was too steep. They were restless, getting on each others’ nerves, nervous about what they were going to do.
Stuck and restless

We left them at that point and returned.

On the return we saw fewer and fewer wildlife as we drove East. It was noon, they were walking on the vehicle tracks where the resistance from grass to walking is lesser.
Zebra crossing
Wildebeest blockade

Soon we reached points where there were absolutely no animals to be seen for as long as you could see.
Lone tree amidst the savanna
Once we crossed that section the wildlife in the shorter grass were back.


2 thoughts on “Wildebeest Crossing (Maasai Mara stories – 3)

  1. Lovely post and great pics! Reading your last 3 posts was like watching one of those BBC or Nat geo specials … must have been awesome watching an actual wildebeest crossing across Mara river. Do they spot the river crossing regularly this season in safari rides or is it less common?

    1. Thanks!
      It is fairly common during the season during midday apparently. They are around only for 2 months a year, and there are loads of them. Some crossing will happen over the day.

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