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Mara River Crossing - Day 2

The waiting game......

sunny
View The Greatest Show on Earth? Wildebeest Migration in Serengeti 2014 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Another pretty sunrise this morning.

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After breakfast we head off towards the river again, to spend another day with the wildebeest, waiting, watching, waiting, watching.

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There is a big herd at Crossing # 2, mostly grazing. When some of them move down river, the other vans follow. We decide to stay and see what happens.

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We didn't have to wait long. Without warning a few wildebeest start jumping 10-20 metres from the crossing, hurtling their body several feet into the air with the power of an Olympic diver! Go! Go! Go!

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A frenzy of curved horns and shaggy beards ensued into in a thin line across the river, and we had front row seats for this dramatic spectacle. For a while we were the only humans present.

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Soon the herd became a moving, breathing bridge that spanned the width of the river and their grunting bray matured into a low steady hum.

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Taking a leap of faith, the wildebeest throw themselves off the river bank and into the unknown, all too aware of the dangers that lie ahead. Many animals are injured when others land on top of them as they enter the river.

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Upon reaching the opposite bank, some wildebeest continue running further afield, while others are too exhausted to do anything more than drag themselves up on dry land.

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Others are very confused and actually cross the river back again to where they came from. What a waste of energy – they say wildebeest are not very bright animals!

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Many mothers get separated from their babies during the crossing – with around 1500 animals it is perhaps not really surprising. For ages afterwards you can see them walking around, looking lost, calling for their offspring (and vice versa). Most are reunited within a few minutes, but sometimes they end up on opposite sides of the river when one of them crosses but not the other.

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As suddenly as it started, it is over. Something (or someone – a crocodile maybe?) spooks the wildebeest and hysteria to get back up the bank ensues.

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It's over again for this time.

For the next few hours we sit and watch the (non) action. The herds run right to left, left to right, congregate (or “build” as it is known) at Crossing # 2, stare at each other across the river, search for their babies, graze, sprint towards the river, sprint away from the river. We also move accordingly. Back, forth, splitting up, getting back together.

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The excitement rises as they run down the embankment...... and up again.

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There are still some pretty big herds on the north side of the river, but will they cross? Will they heck!

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As we are so close, we go back to the camp to use the facilities, and take a few photos.

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This is how close the camp is to the migration!

The camp consists of a dining tent (on the left) and a lounge area (on the right), as well as the ten individual tents for sleeping.

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Dickson wearing the Bristol T-shirt we brought him over last time we were in Tanzania in 2011.

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Sudden starting of car engines gets the adrenalin going again; only to find that it is news that the rangers are on their way which causes a flurry of activity. Technically you are not allowed to drive off-road here, so all the cars parked under trees waiting for the action would get a telling-off if the rangers caught them. We all move to sit in an orderly line on the marked track. In the sun.

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To kill a bit of time, we ask Dickson to show us photos of his wife, young son and their wedding on his laptop. No sooner has he switched it on – and the crossing starts again! This time it is only a short drive away, so we are there almost immediately.

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Strong currents shift the crossing downriver, and it ends up as three crossings in one at one stage.

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One of the more surprising information I gleaned while researching this trip, was the fact that the migration is not quite such a natural phenomenon which has been happing since year dot - it only started in the 1960's. Even Ernest Hemingway, who wrote extensively about his safaris in Africa, wouldn’t have seen the Migration! It all started after an epidemic nearly eradicated the wildebeest population in the late 19th century. After treatment and immunisation had been found for the disease, the wildebeest population was slowly restored. In the next 50 or so years, the population boomed and soon became too large for the Serengeti's grasslands to sustain. Subsequently the large herds started moving further and further afield to find new pastures, eating their way across the Serengeti, the Kenya border and in to the Masai Mara. Once they had exhausted all the fresh grass in the Mara, they made their way back across the Serengeti to start this circular route again. Other herbivores, including zebras and Thompson gazelles, have followed.

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The spectacle is insane, but while it may appear as a total, chaotic frenzy, it isn't as random as it seems – wildebeest display what is known as “swarm intelligence” whereby the huge herds of animals systematically explore and overcome the obstacle as one.

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Like the previous crossing, something spooked the wildebeest, and they make an about-turn in great numbers.

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A few of them run up river for a short distance and start a new crossing there – until they discover the crocodile you can see in the background.

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As I have said before, wildebeest aren't the brightest of creatures, and this young fellah decided he was going to take a different exit from the river – and promptly got stuck in the mud.

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We were all holding our breath as the crocodile discovered him and went to check it out. You're be glad to know that the baby managed to free himself before the croc got there.

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Most of the plains animals give birth between February and March, so it is unusual to see such a young zebra as this – this one was only about one or two weeks old – although sometimes they are able to prolong the birthing season if there is a shortage of food.

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Crocodile
As an opportunist hunter, the crocodile can lie in wait for hours, days and even weeks for a suitable prey, and moment, to attack. They are agile and swift with a powerful bite, sinking their teeth into the flesh for a grip that is almost impossible to loosen, holding their prey under water to drown.

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But just because you see a crocodile on the banks of the river, doesn't mean to say that he is waiting to attack - the Mara River crocodiles are said to feed only once or twice a year during the wildebeest crossing! It is thought that some of these mottled green giants are over 50 years old!

We thought we'd hang around for a bit to see if he was going to take any notice of the impala on the shore – but he totally ignored them. He'd obviously eaten already this year! The reason for the open mouth is to lose heat on warm days.

So, it was back to waiting, watching, watching, waiting again. In the warm afternoon sun we all ended up having an unintentional siesta in the car!

There were no more crossings this afternoon, but we did see a few more animals and birds before returning to the camp.

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Black Backed Jackal

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Elephants

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Bare Faced Go-Away Bird

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Eland

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A male reedbuck

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Giraffe

Another nice sunset tonight. I do love African sunsets.

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Something else I love about Africa (and there is a lot to love about this place!), is the night sky. I have never seen stars like it anywhere else in the world. With almost no light pollution for miles, the stars are unbelievably clear and there are more stars in the African sky than I ever believed existed.

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After dinner I set my camera up on a tripod to try and capture some of these stars, including the Milky Way. I am quite pleased with the way they came out.

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I even caught a passing plane:

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This would not have been possible without all the great arrangements by Calabash Adventures

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:50 Archived in Tanzania

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Comments

Simply Amazing once again.
What talent for both narrating as well as the obvious - your photo skills.
Love everything about this blog.

by Homer Gardin

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