Every summer, millions of wildebeest, zebras, and gazelles migrate across the Mara River to graze on the tall grasses. This is part of a larger cycle that the herd animals follow all year round. Our trip was planned specifically to (hopefully) catch part of the migration into the Maasai Mara. There’s no way to predict when the herds will migrate, but we had several days in the Mara to give it a try! Our first full day game drive was full of lots of animals, but no migration. We started our day off by seeing three (!!!!) leopards, which was unbelievable for two reasons. First, leopards are notoriously difficult to see. They like to hang out in trees, so they are hard to see when you’re on safari. When we went to Tanzania, the only leopard sighting we had was the tail dangling off a tree limb. It was super far away in a tree and even with binoculars it was hard to see anything but its tail. The second reason our sighting was so incredible is that leopards are solitary – they are very rarely seen together. The only time they are spotted together is when they are mating. Even then, it’s only two leopards, so the fact that we saw three together was incredible! I knew we were witnessing something really special when I saw our guide, who has been guiding tours for 20 years, and our driver, who has been doing tours for over 10 years, pull out their phones and record video of the leopards. They were just as excited as we were!
After the leopards, we headed to the bank of the river to see if we could get a glimpse of the migration. We arrived at the bank and there was a herd gathering on the other side. We sat for a bit and waited to see if any would go. None did while we were there, but we did learn a lot about the migration. We learned that the herds build up on the bank and essentially just one has to start down the bank to the river and they will all follow. This was bizarre to me – I would have guessed that it was more orchestrated than that! Evidently, wildebeest are amongst the dumbest animals in the world. It literally just takes one wildebeest or zebra to decide they are thirsty and they move. The rest follow. There’s no assessment of danger – no one looking to see if there are crocodiles or hippos nearby and no one looking to see if there are any big cats skulking around. Just one needs to be a little thirsty!
The herd built up a bit by the bank and we really thought they were going to go! But as quickly as they built up, they began walking back away from the river bank. We left in search of more animals and a plan to return the next day for another try!
The last picture in this post is such a good example of how well the animals blend in with the scenery. There is a cat in that picture!