The Great Migration - Tanzania
Sitting quietly in our Toyota Landcruiser, hidden behind a large Acacia tree on the Tanzanian side of the Mara River the air is full of apprehension. Behind us, likely close to a million Wildebeests have already crossed the river and are continuing into the Serengeti grazing lands. Directly in front of us is the Mara River, about 100 yards across to the other side tens of thousands of Wildebeests have gathered on the Kenyan side, in the Masai Mara, to cross at a shallow spot in between two sets of rapids. The stench of death fills the still African air from rotting carcasses of previous failed crossings. Crocodiles lie mostly submerged hidden from the sight of the herd; the herd knows they are there and likely knows we are here as well. Off to one side of us is the 'lost ones', 32 young calves bellowing for their mothers across the river. The calves have gotten separated from their mothers during a previous crossing this morning and the mothers have either moved on ahead or were frightened back or didn't survive the river. The herd is nervously scanning the banks for signs of danger, which is everywhere but more and more Wildebeest are lining up along the banks pushing for the river. Maybe 10000 now but it could be more line up on the bank. Small groups of 5 or 6 step down off the steep dirt ledge and slowly work their way towards rocks of the river bank. One by one each will lose their courage and run hard back up the bank and jump back into the crush of the herd. Finally one brave Wildebeest dives into the water and the whole herd follows maybe 6 wide following one after the next. Our driver yells 'Hang on' as he flicks the key and we lunge out of the trees at full speed to the river bank for a closer view. The scene is spectacular; this is one of the most dangerous times in the life of the Wildebeest, and they all want to spend as little time in the crocodile infested river as possible. Some are strong swimmers and some struggle in the current but a miss step on the rocks will mean a broken leg and the rest of herd will trample on over and by, there is no stopping now. Crocs emerge from the water creating more panic in the swimmers; the first few reach the far bank and struggle up the steep dirt bank with all the energy they have left throwing reactionary kicks behind here and there just in case a croc was on their heels. They hit the Serengeti plains running at top speed and the noise of thundering hoofs fills the air and drowns out the bellows of the excited 'lost ones'. They don't stop running for at least 500 yards and quickly the area starts to fill with the herd. Back in the river the struggle to survive continues. A large croc moves in on a smaller one and the squeal fills the air for a brief moment then stops, calve and croc submerge into the murky water. A very small calf less than a month old enters the swift water and very quickly the current carries it downstream away from the pack. It struggles against the current with all of its might to make headway but is only holding its own. My wife sits down and can no longer watch. The banks of the river downstream are full of crocodiles delighting in the scene and they sit lazily sunning themselves waiting for the current to do their dirty work. The little calve is determined however and musters a final strong push ahead and after what seems like an eternity drags itself up out of the water on to the rocky bank his body shaking; he is so drained he can barely stand. He is not out of danger yet as he still needs to negotiate the steep dirt bank and not get crushed by the panicking herd and luckily he makes it to the top. A cheer rises from our vehicle.Chobe National Park, Botswana
Finally, after 12 days of hunting in 5 National Parks spread across half a continent, Jenson, our Botswana born guide had done it. He had tracked a leopard in a tree about 100 yards from our vehicle. Perched 20 feet above the sandy soil, sitting perfectly still and perfectly camouflaged, I needed to stare at the spot he was pointing to. Then a slight movement of her head from within the Acacia tree canopy and I had her in my camera lens. After a while she slowly made her way out of the tree and onto the ground. Her arrival was not quite as graceful as she had hoped as a small flock of Guinea Fowl spot her and alert the neighbourhood with their shrill cackle. Jenson points out all of the giraffe are telling us where she is now; I look around and there are at least a dozen heads above the canopy and each head is facing exactly where she is walking. Prior to her exit from the tree the giraffes were staring at us.