"Today was good, today was fun, tomorrow is another one". Dr Seuss.
We were up early on this wonderful Monday morning, most excited at the opportunity to explore this iconic wildlife destination. During the night we had heard lions roaring at a fair distance, there must have been 2 prides as they were sounding off from opposite directions. Hyenas also added to the night chorus. We discovered a dead zebra on the entrance road to Eluai not 50m from where we were camped. It appeared to have died from natural causes and when we first saw it it was taking its last few breaths. I warned everyone not to try and move it out of the road as it may have died from the dangerous and highly infectious Anthrax disease. We had to make a short but rocky detour to get past it. Later we reported this carcass to some rangers in their patrol vehicle and they agreed that it should be removed because of the Anthrax risk but nothing was done.
We first headed for the Mara River where some small wildebeest herds had gathered on the Reserve side. We settled at the Cul de Sac crossing point (all these crossing points are on the map) where this small and skittish herd of wildebeest had gathered. Most impressive about this site were the absolutely huge crocodiles, at least 8, gathered on the bank and in the water. We were anticipating some real action but this came from the opposite direction when a single wildebeest crossed. The terrified animal plunged into the river and obviously had broken a leg on doing this. He managed to evade the crocs that had launched into the water but with his broken limb was initially unable to clamber out on the exit bank. A huge croc had a few goes at him, but he managed to scramble onto the bank despite his flailing limb. Here he had to scramble further up the bank to avoid the croc which had left the water to try and capture its prey. Here he was temporarily out of harms way but with a broken limb his fate was sealed. This cameo single crossing brought home to us the danger of these crossings and explained the fear and frenzy involved. Unfortunately this drama was a little too far away for decent photos.
The group of 20 wildebeest on the other side were extremely skittish and could see the large crocs lying in waiting. They would approach the water repeatedly as if determined to cross but would baulk at the last moment, exciting but also somewhat frustrating. Eventually the whole group launched themselves from the bank and paddled furiously across the 50m wide river. The rolling eyes and frenzy of the crossing was impressive and miraculously all of this small herd escaped the jaws of the crocs. This we hoped would be a prelude to crossings in larger numbers later.
Whilst we were watching and waiting nature dished us up another great treat. A leopard came down to the opposite bank to drink about 200m upstream. Through binos we had a lovely view, which became even more interesting when we noticed a hippo in the water approaching the leopard. Initially they stared each other down but the leopard beat a hasty retreat when the hippo lunged at him. We were really witnessing the countless dramas that occur in the tough environment of the African bush.
We next wanted to view the spectacle of the massive herds of wildebeast and some zebra that we heard were still present in the southwest, towards the Tanzanian border. The figures we were quoted were that 70% of the herd had crossed into Tanzania, but that still left something like 4 million concentrated in the southwest of the Triangle. It was a drive of only about 20km before we found ourselves in the midst of this legendary mega-herd. Such a sight is impressive beyond words. The hills and valleys were dotted with grazing wildebeest as far as the eye could reach. In some areas they were marching off to the south in long queues stretching from horizon to horizon. Scattered amongst them were some zebra and topi. I have now had the singular experience of having witnessed 3 of Africa's great migrations. The wildebeest here, the millions of fruit bats at Kasanka Zambia and the sardine run in the Indian Ocean at home around East London. The wildebeest were the most impressive. Together with the crossings, these were National Geographic and Animal Planet material and complemented our experience in Serengeti wonderfully. Unfortunately with the best will (but not anything like the skill needed), I do not think the photos will do this spectacle justice. Something deep within me has been satisfied by witnessing this marvel of nature. It is especially wonderful to have experienced all of this under our own steam, what a privilege! But there was more to come. We were lucky enough to see a second leopard and another lion pride neither of which delivered satisfactory photographic opportunities.
We went to visit Dirisha Private Campsite as we wanted to see what we had missed out on when our invitation to join the Wanzungu Wamili's fell by the wayside after delays earlier in the trip. It is indeed a wonderful campsite, right on the bank of the Mara River, not too far from Eluai. It can accommodate a number of tents in its plentiful shade under lovely trees and is very private. It was a little sad to see it standing empty. Nearby we found our first pride of lions, a male and 5 females, another monkey off my back.
On Tuesday we set ourselves the objective of trying to find a major river crossing by the herds. These were ocurring all the time but had eluded us this far. The search requires great patience as there are multiple recognised crossings points of this area of the Mara River stretching from north of Eluai to those south of Eluai. We initially went to the crossing places slightly to the north and although there were small herds gathering at both the Serena Main Crossing and the Cul de Sac crossing nothing much was happening. We then got word that a really large herd were trekking along the river to the south and that a major crossing was imminent at the BBC Lugga, the Maji Ma Chafu or Fig Tree crossing. We spent a number of hours there. Just a word of warning, there is a special set of rules regarding crossings. Do not approach the crossing point too closely before the crossing has actually begun. The best is just to follow what the game drive vehicles are doing. Especially in the Triangle the rangers strictly supervise and apply the rules. When you enter at the gate you will be given a set of rules. Study and obey them as the authorities will not hesitate to issue substantial fines. Each crossing point is different and with some you can park at a fairly close vantage point without compromising a crossing. You can then only move into position later once the crossing has begun and then only in such a position not to interfere with the animals. Once the animals have started crossing vehicles apparently do not inhibit the herd. The best is to follow what others are doing.
Here, further south there was indeed a very large herd of about a couple of hundred thousand widebeest and some zebra moving along on the Reserve side of the river. Every now and then the herds would approach close to the river before having their courage fail them and moving on. Time was moving on and after both an exciting and frustrating outing we had to move back to camp. Just as in Serengeti we had come so near but yet so far from witnessing one of the greatest spectacles nature has to offer. That night the jackals and 3 hyena moved in on the zebra carcass which was already smelling a little high. Some of the whoops of the hyena right next to our vehicles were rather startling.
We had only entered the gate at 14H30 on our first day and with the 24hr rule had time to try to see a major crossing again the next day. Also we planned to spend 1 night on the Reserve side and would pay an additional night. If staying in either of the 2 areas one can freely cross and visit the other as your fees paid cover both. We were feverishly hoping to witness a decent crossing and planned to spend a substantial length of time hanging around the crossing sites the next day. Incidentally for anyone needing to refuel, it is available at the HQ at Serena.
The main picture and the first 4 thumbs give an idea of the immensity of the herds.
The next 3 thumbs depict those thriving on the feast the herds provide.