I’ve been fortunate enough to witness many natural wonders, but few can compare to the annual Mara River crossing. 1.5 million wildebeest and 200,000 zebras migrate across the Serengeti and Maasai Mara plains, following the rains that bring rich and abundant food sources for these animals.
This migration has been an annual event for millennia.
It’s one of the top reasons people come to the Maasai Mara, to witness one of the nature’s most incredible spectacles. It draws nature enthusiasts and thrills so many with the life and death it brings.
In autumn, calves are born and must quickly learn to walk and grow stronger. They bond with their mothers through sight and smell. Zebras are no different in that regard. In fact, zebras must memorize their mother’s markings or be left with no one to feed them.
The Mara River cuts through the plains, bending and twisting to present numerous challenges to the migrating herds. The wildebeest are not the brightest of animals, but they are determined and resilient.
I watch as the herd descends a shallow slope to the water’s edge. Crocodiles grin mischievously from the banks, perhaps sated from a previous attempt, but others are not visible.
Hippos appear from beneath the cooling waters, looking perplexed by the frantic beasts scampering across the water, slipping on rocks and passing already piling bodies of fallen comrades.
A calf hovers close to its mother, watching. Her mother leaps clumsily into the river and hops and bounds into the depths. Our calf follows. The million of these beasts kick up a cloud of dust that stretches across the landscape, but it’s this one life that captures my heart.
She struggles to keep her snout above the water and for her legs to find purchase in the deepening cold. A larger male loses his footing and stumbles. He drifts downstream, toward the hippos. Those large beasts have no interest in these gnus (another name for wildebeests) and eventually shuffle away, farther from the commotion.
The calf is unaware of anything around her and desperately lunges for the shore with every ounce of energy. As she closes in, a hidden crocodile strikes. The male that slipped is suddenly caught in the jaws of this prehistoric monster, and its already weary body quickly succumbs to the power of the croc.
Our calf is safely across, but it’s only one of numerous survival tests that await. For now, she’ll graze and grow stronger. She’ll learn and adapt. She’ll follow single file as all the herd does to the next crossing.