The Masai Mara National Reserve is a large game reserve in south-western Kenya, which is effectively the northern continuation of the Serengeti National Park game reserve in Tanzania. Named after the Maasai people (the traditional inhabitants of the area) and their description of the area when looked at from a viewpoint – “Mara”, which is Maa (Maasai language) for spotted: an apt description for the circles of trees, scrub, savannah and cloud shadows that mark the area.
It is famous for its exceptional population of Big Cats, game, and the annual migration of zebra, Thomson’s gazelle and wildebeest from the Serengeti every year from July to October, a migration so immense it is called the Great Migration.
The Migration starts in May with the wildebeests in the South of The Serengeti having spent close to six months there, feeding and breeding. Their migration takes them North to the south of Grumeti River by June where they gather in numbers as they wait to cross the river. The crocodiles here will have their own fair share of an annual feast before the migration continues further north. July and August will see them charging across the Serengeti finally ending up South of the Mara River. They don’t stay too long in Kenya, by October great herds snake back south to the Serengeti where they stay for six months from November to May when the cycle starts all over again.
One would wonder why they choose to migrate in such numbers, the simple reason here being safety.” You see, big cats (which are the biggest hunters of gnu) don’t have the kind of eyesight you and I enjoy so picking out game from a sea of charging animals is not an easy task. Another reason, and this is the point where evolution comes to play, is that the higher the numbers of those who are migrating, the higher the chances of survivors and in turn the higher the chance of survival for the species.
The migration in itself is an attraction but what really sells the tickets to this show is the action that comes with crossing the Mara, arguably the biggest obstacle in their migratory route. The wildebeests will take days to gather on the Serengeti side of the Mara river, building suspense for the waiting observers and providing welcome meals for the prides of hungry lions and other big cats. It only takes one brave gnu crossing or rather attempting to cross the Mara to get others scrambling to get an opportunity. Beneath the murky waters of the Mara are plenty of Nile Crocodiles waiting to sink their teeth into any moving thing that errs and finds itself being washed down river.
One would fault nature for being so cruel but that is the cycle of life, every death here is not a loss, not really. There’s always a hungry belly waiting to be satisfied. That’s not the end of it, jumping into the water is considered the easy part, generations of migrating gnu have eroded the banks of the river steep making exiting the river a difficult affair. Many more will be lost due to drowning but those lost are barely a scratch on the surface as overwhelming numbers still cross the river.
The Great Migration is one of the most impressive natural events worldwide, involving an immensity of herbivores some 1,300,000 wildebeests, 360,000 Thomson’s gazelles, and 191,000 zebras.