Sunday, August 14, 2011

Wildebeest Crossing in Northern Serengeti

I try to avoid writing about big things on this blog, and would rather concentrate on little things that many people miss. On the last trip, this sighting in the northern tip of the Serengeti, on the Mara river will definitely be marked as one of the best wildlife sightings for me this year.
3 channels of wildebeest begin the crossing
The wildebeest had gathered on the far bank of the river, the huge grass fire on the Maasai Mara behind us dwarfed by a building thunderstorm beckoning the wildebeest to cross. The wildebeest migration is driven by their need for water and green pastures, and as we all know, the grass is always greener on the other side.
Emerging around the vehicle
When the rest of the Serengeti is drying up, the wildebeest head north towards the Maasai Mara and Lamai wedge. These areas experience rain because of their proximity to Lake Victoria and the prevailing winds. Fires, which frequent the area at this time of year, are either lit by poachers to distract rangers, or by rangers in with their ecological fire regimes. The fires clean out the dry less nutritious grass and there is some evidence that the smoke precipitates the rain in the same way that farmers shoot Silver Iodide smoke to get rain in other parts of the world. The released nutrients in the ash and water from the rain have an amazing effect on the grass which sprouts a green lawn known as the green flush. (Read more about the effects of fire on Savannah’s here)

I wish I had a sound recording of the splashing and gnu-ing.
At about 4:30, the first wildebeest dove into the river provoking the rest of the herd to follow in what is one of the largest wildebeest crossing I have ever witnessed. Parked slightly downstream we watched as the current slowly drifted the crossing herds closer to our vehicle until they were emerging up the bank on either side of the car. I estimate over 30,000 wildebeest crossed in the 2 ½ hrs we’re there.

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