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Great Migration


A real zebra crossing, Masai Mara, Kenya safari wildlifeBy the third and last full day, we'd seen three of 'the big five'. All that remained (though I didn't hold out much hope) was a glimpse of the leopard, the rhinos and a trip to see one of the most breathtaking animal spectacles - the Great Migration.

This is the phenomenon where thousands of wildebeest (and other herbivores) head north - nose to tail - leaving behind the trimmed, southern plains of Tanzania's Serengeti, in search of greener pastures.

From a distance, this spectacular scene resembles a great train and appears to have neither a beginning, nor an end. It pauses only to rest and refuel and is most impressive when crossing a river.

So, parked on the edge of a steep riverbank, we waited patiently for its arrival. The brown, flowing waters of the Mara River pose no real threat for the animals. But, what lurks just beneath the surface, instils terror in all those brave enough to cross.

For the crocodiles, this annual migration is an easy and daily feast for several months. These huge reptiles float motionless, like innocuous planks of wood, drifting with the tide. We watched intently as the front carriages, of the herbivore train, derailed to inspect the water's edge. They were nervous. I wondered if last year's memories came back to haunt them or whether they knew, instinctively, the danger that infested those waters.

The Great Migration's leader took several minutes to consider his first steps into the murky depths. He hesitated, smelling the water, imagining what monstrous creature might drag him underneath. Then, without warning, he plunged into the river, followed, in single file, by the rest of the migrants.

Wildebeest and zebra, alike, kept close to the tail in front. We cheered as the first few reached safety, while those behind swam frantically to join their successful comrades on the bank. "Come on!" we shouted as more and more plunged in. Through my zoom lens I could sense their fear: it was etched on their faces as their eyes rolled back into their sockets, revealing only the whites.

I have to confess, as this extraordinary train gradually dwindled, I was disappointed not to have witnessed a kill. But we had to move on. The rhinos were still some distance away and we had yet to find a safe spot to stop and have our packed lunch.

We observed the Great Wildebeest Migration many times during the few days we remained in the Masai Mara. Yet, at each subsequent encounter, my wonder remained undiminished. It was a humbling and mystifying spectacle... A picnic in the bush...


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