A cycle of life and death through the Serengeti and the Maasai Mara
It is one of the most spectacular natural events, millions of animals making their way through the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem in East Africa every year between July and October. Wildebeest, followed by zebras, gazelles and some eland and topi, lead the way from Tanzania across the Mara River into Kenya, all in search of greener pastures. Called the Great Migration, it is an endless cycle of life and death, and no two years are the same.
It is drizzling when we leave Nairobi under cloudy skies at around 06:00. Six adults, one child and a lot of anticipation tightly squeezed into a sports utility vehicle, we are finally on our way to witness the greatest mass movement of animals anywhere in the world.
As a first time visitor to Kenya, I am scanning the countryside outside the window intently as the sun is struggling to get the morning going. The sheer variety of landscape, intertwined with human settlements, makes for an alluring driving experience. We are following part of the Great Rift Valley route, responsible for this geographical diversity, and I don’t want to miss a thing.
We are not staying in the Maasai Mara National Game Reserve itself, but outside on the 17,000 acres Ol Choro Oiroua group ranch. Together with 10 other ranches, it forms part of the Greater Mara Ecosystem.
Driving up to “House in the Wild” after a mind-pleasingly, but a body-achingly journey of a couple of hours, a grove of large trees welcome us to our home for the next couple of days. With an ice-cold Dawa in hand, we sink into some loungers on the banks of the Mara River and just soak up the view. Dawa doesn’t mean “magic potion” for nothing in Swahili…
The early bird catches the worm
Waking up to the sound of cow and goat bells in a game reserve the next morning is a bit surreal for this confessed Kruger nut. But herein lays the beauty and lure of the land—humans and wild animals can coexist, in harmony, together.
The call of ‘The Mara’, as Kenya’s pride and joy is called by the locals, is getting stronger by the minute. With the last swig of some hot and tasty Masala tea, we head towards the Oloololo Gate where we will be entering the Mara Triangle.
A line of safari operated and privately owned vehicles are already lined up when we arrive. Some are already on their way out, having stayed inside the reserve, and the occupants of the vehicles look back longingly for one last time.
For the love of the wild
After paying the required conservation fees and getting the rules and regulations (‘no shouting, clapping or cheering near any of the animals’ and ‘do not cross the Tanzanian border’ being two of them), we get out for a good stretch of the legs and necks. The excitement is palpable as we are about to set foot in one of the most remarkable wildlife attractions—the sheer volume and variety for sure going to make for a sensory overload.
It doesn’t take long for the action to start—wildebeest, zebras, giraffe, topi, buffalo, elephant, and eland fill up the frame in quick succession. Various pairs of binoculars reveal a brown spot on a small termite mound in the distance. And when vehicles start congregating, we join the fray, promptly disturbing a romantic moment between a male lion and his female companion.
It seems love is in the air this morning (or maybe not?). As we are leaving the king and queen of this jungle, we come across a very amorous male ostrich. He is strutting his stuff and fluffing his feathers, for the moment to no avail, however, with the female being oblivious to his attentions. Persistence is the name of the game—it seems.
We are still a long way from any of the crossing points over the Mara River, but it doesn’t matter at all—the unexpected is happening around every corner. A ‘normal’ and ‘routine’ stop for a glance at a secretary bird, turns into a nail-biting, breathtaking, almost-kill. One moment the feathered creature is just walking along, the next it’s skidding in a cloud of dust after a hare of some sort—it was way too fast to make an identification—alas, no reward.
With the mind filled with the sights and the sounds of the Maasai Mara, it’s time to replenish the body with some fuel of a different kind. And a more rewarding lunch spot there surely can’t be—for as far as the eye can see, it’s just wild open spaces.
The Mission Crossing
And now it’s Mission Crossing! There are no guarantees that we will get to witness this spectacular event, for as we know, no two years are the same. But just the mere possibility, makes the skin tingle with anticipation.
The open plains are dotted with solid dark specks, along with a few black and white stripes thrown in—are we going to see this? We make our way towards the river, along with a handful of other hopeful enthusiasts. Together man and beast congregate on the banks of the great Mara River, waiting and hoping.
The sky is darkening, and threatening clouds are moving in, and it seems to thwart the plans of the throngs of wildebeest, now milling around nervously. Just as it seems that the pressure is going to break and they are going to go for it, they turn back.
We wait for as long as possible to witness “The Crossing”—we have to leave the reserve by 18:30—but eventually, realise that today is not going to be the day. Very reluctantly we turn the vehicle away and start heading back, not without heads straining backwards every so often, for one last time, just maybe…
Just before leaving this natural gem, we come across the evidence of this yearly struggle of life and death. The smell of death is heavy in the air as hundreds of carcasses lay washed up on the lower banks of the river. There are more than enough to go around between the crocodiles, Marabou storks, and banded mongoose that are hanging around, eager for the pickings.
Back at “House in the Wild”, watching the sunset over yet another unique African day, we muse and ponder over a couple of Tuskers over what wasn’t, in this instance. We conclude that nature doesn’t have a textbook, the only thing that’s certain in the great scheme of things, is that nothing is certain.