He Greatest Show in the World Wildebeest Migration

The plains were shaking and the swirling cloud of brown dust was floating as the wildebeest made its way to the Mara River. The great Gnu Migration across the plains of East Africa had begun.

Migration is one of the most spectacular representations of wildlife behavior in the world. Nowhere is there such a huge terrestrial movement of animals as the migration of wildebeest. This is an exciting, fascinating and wonderful show.

GNU MIGRATION STARTS WITH A TRICKLE

At first, it’s just a trickle. A vanguard of zebras and a pair of wildebeest. They cross the Tanzanian border and flow into the savannah plains of the Masai Mara National Reserve. The reserve in Kenya is part of the continuous ecosystem with the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.

The trickle quickly turns into a flood as the bulk of the migrating herds rush in. For the next three to four months, usually between July and October, stay in the Mara and enjoy the fresh green pastures.

They stay until the arrival of short rains in October or November. Then Tanzania pulls them south again.

As the masses of wildebeest move towards the river and gather on the banks, their urgency and hesitation are felt. The energy in the air crackles with anticipation and is captivating.

Looking at them, the wildebeest seemed to take courage, because even they did not seem to know when to cross. It is impossible to predict. Some arrive at the water’s edge and pass immediately, while others graze for days. Still others return to where they came from.

Unfortunately, the spectacle of migration is misunderstood by many visitors, which can lead to disappointment. This is not a Mass of rushed flocks, as we often see on television and in documentaries. Most of the time, wildebeest spend time grazing, gradually moving to the numerous water crossings.

Looking at them, the wildebeest seemed to take courage, because even they did not seem to know when to cross. It is impossible to predict. Some arrive at the water’s edge and pass immediately, while others graze for days. Still others return to where they came from.

Unfortunately, the spectacle of migration is misunderstood by many visitors, which can lead to disappointment. This is not a Mass of rushed flocks, as we often see on television and in documentaries. Most of the time, wildebeest spend time grazing, gradually moving to the numerous water crossings.

IMPACT OF COVID ON TOURISM IN THE MASAI MARA, KENYA

The Maasai called the vast plains the Mara, because it means “spotted land” in the Maa language. It was a reference to the acacia glades that once freckled the meadows before fire and Elephants created the open views of today. The Masai Mara is the country of the Masai. It is not a national park, but a National Reserve belonging to the Maasai.

Every year, the Gnu Migration triggers a twin migration. First of all, the almost two million animals themselves. In addition, tourists from all over the world flock to Kenya in the hope of discovering the natural wonder.

This Season was far from typical. The reserve, created in 1961, is exhausted by international visitors. The blow to Kenya’s economy has been devastating.

Last year, about 1 million tourists visited the Mara, mainly from the United States, Europe and China. This has provided much-needed income for the Maasai community, especially the informal sector, which depends on tourists buying souvenirs.

Normally, the plains would have been occupied by wildlife observation vehicles filled with visitors hoping to see an intersection. But this year, Kenyans had one of the most coveted wildlife experiences in the country.

Tourism is struggling around the world due to travel restrictions. Kenya is no different because its international borders have been intermittently closed. It was a disastrous time for Lodges and tour operators.

If you want to travel to see the Maasai Mara without contributing to mass tourism, consider traveling as a volunteer as part of the Tanzanian community volunteer trip. Teach women’s empowerment or help improve children’s education during your stay and empower the community while exploring the natural majesty of Africa.

Opening up an untapped market

Unfortunately, some have simply closed. But the most innovative ones realized that they had an untapped single market that had perhaps been neglected during previous migrations.

By adapting the offer to the different expectations and needs of the local market, many Kenyans may have witnessed Migration for the first time. This allowed the companies to survive because many camps were reserved for the migration period.

I had not visited the Mara for many years, because I had previously found the experience disappointing and distressing. After visiting many national parks in Kenya and other African countries, I found irritating the frenzy of tourists who rushed in safari vehicles and jostled for first-rate positions at the river crossing points.

This, combined with the harassment of predators, especially cheetahs, who cared little about the animals they saw and ignored the basic rules of the bush, was too painful to tolerate.

It was refreshing and a privilege to relive the Mara as a peaceful wilderness. More precisely, to see the administration of the reserve apply its rules and punish the defaulters.

The reserve was closed for several months. During this time, Mother Nature was able to heal a little. The animals seemed more relaxed and many dirt roads were now covered with grass to remove the scars of the previous tourist season.

Without the pressure of the other vehicles, I was able to observe a Serval rod and kill a big rat before taking it to its hiding place. The lions were abundant and the sightings of cheetahs walking in the meadows as well as leopards examining a river bank were delightful moments.

With fewer vehicles, I reveled in the random and sometimes chaotic activity of the wildebeest and I had the chance to share the experience of three action-packed river crossings with only two other vehicles. Whereas in previous years there could have been up to a hundred.

The reserve has about 230 Lodges and tent camps. This gives an indication of the number of visitors that the Mara can accommodate during the high Migration season. Only a handful have been open this past Season, mainly due to Covid restrictions as well as the lack of international tourists.

GNU MIGRATION FLOW TRAVERSALS

The Mara River meanders for 360 km and animals can cross anywhere. Although there are well-known places, there is no single crossing point and there are no guaranteed places to witness the dangerous and frantic crossings of the river.

During the Migration, there are many daily crossings on the Talek and Mara rivers. One of the misconceptions of Migration is that crossings can be predicted and are always at defined river points. In some places there are few individuals, while others see a Mass of animals moving for hours without rest.

While waiting at the water’s edge, I was excited but also anxious, knowing that the timing would always be critical for the animals that jump into the water. Along with the brittle jaws of crocodiles, there is also the wild current of the Mara River, which often kills more lives than predators.

A large number of wildebeest drown during the crossings and their bodies offer a feast to vultures and Maraboos. The crossings are by far the most dangerous part of the entire migratory journey.

Suddenly I saw thousands of wildebeest lining up and hurriedly moving across the plains towards the river. Then the Chaos of the crossing began. I was amazed and relieved by the strongest and most determined animals that reached the other side. After surviving the crossing, some returned in search of their cubs, who may not have joined the group or were too nervous to cross.

The atmosphere was filled with amazement, excitement and encouragement as I watched the Wildebeest drama jump into the river. They almost jumped on the water, noisy, energetic, frantic, panicked and chaotic.

They were like ants, seemingly without direction, but with an instinctive purpose and most with enough adrenaline-fueled energy to show up.

But this scene also brought sadness when some animals were swept away by the current and got stuck in the rocks and mud. We knew there was nothing to save her.

These exciting, violent and dramatic intersections have been captured in many excellent films and documentaries. However, being there and experiencing it from the riverside was an emotional and unforgettable experience.

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