At the very top of “Shelley’s Africa Bucket List” was to witness the The Great Migration. And hopefully a crossing. The Great Migration has been listed as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
When United Nations delegates met in Stockholm in 1972 to choose the first World Heritage Sites it was the Serengeti that came top of the list. Today it is one of the most famous national parks on Earth, renowned for its magnificent lions but best known for its great migration.
The Great Migration involves more than one million wildebeest, zebras, gazelles and a variety of other animals traversing the Serengeti annually in search of food and breeding grounds. Many consider wildebeest crossings one of nature’s most astonishing life and death dramas, with millions of animals schlepping back and forth from Tanzania to Kenya and back again. To cross, they must withstand the crash-landing of leaping off the embankment, avoid the jaws of crocodiles and lions that wait in ambush, paddle and thrash their way across the river, and finally they must hope that they do not get simply crushed in the commotion.
Witnessing a crossing involves waiting and patience. There are no guarantees when it comes to a crossing as our guide reminded us. Land Cruisers gather on the plains, but protocal requires mandatory distances for jeeps in order to protect the wildebeests along their journey. Herds may gather or “build” on the river bank for hours, maybe even days. “Building” is when wildebeest herds gather before a crossing. Wildebeest are indecisive. Hours can pass with many false starts. For no apparent reason, they turn and wander away from the water’s edge. Finally, with no apparent trigger, a few animals rush toward the water, with thousands following close behind along with zebras, elands and gazelles. It’s a herd mentality. Once one animal makes a move to cross, the rest of the group follows. Wildebeest hurtle their bodies into the air and down chutes created by years of crossings and Mother Nature. Once the wildebeest start crossing the river drivers jockey for position. From 0 to 60 (well maybe 20) in seconds. Indescribable drama on an epic scale.
Video Credit: Alex Walker
Photo Credit: Shelley and Clifton Levine