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The scene of thousands of wildebeest crossing the Mara river is literally quite breathtaking, but. It is not always a beautiful sight.

The first time we witnessed this wildlife spectacle, it was exciting, but tinged with sadness in every aspect, and one we would never forget.

The crossing point was about one mile from Mara Serena lodge where we were staying and a regular crossing point for the wildebeest, though we do not know why as you will find out later. The build up of wildebeest all along the Mara river was increasing daily and on this particular morning we found an extremely large gathering, about 5,000 wildebeest, spread out over about a quarter of a mile section across the river from us, and with many down on a flat sand bank area by the river itself. We decided to wait and see if a crossing was going to happen as the herd seemed to be pressing towards this one area of open sand bank.

As the numbers grew the wildebeest on the bank above were being forced down towards the river, which made the wildebeest already there very nervous. Those at the front who after they had drank tried to move back, but could only do so when other wildebeest pushed through to drink themselves. Occasionally something would spook them and en-mass they would turn in unison and storm back up the embankment. Within ten minutes or so they would settle and that force of nature that lies deep within them would draw them back to the river.

We had been here now for around two hours and had to make a decision on whether to stay and forgo breakfast or go back and have a quick breakfast and come straight back? We decided on the later as the lodge was not too far away.

We were back at the river by ten O-clock, and were so pleased to see they had not started crossing, though there were definitely more wildebeest than when we left. Another hour went by, and apart from a few false starts and an increase in Vulture activity we realised it was going to be a long morning, but one we were enjoying to the full. Another hour passed and the word was out about a huge crossing that might take place as we were now joined by about ten other vehicles. By this time we had been waiting four hours and I could not help thinking, if they cross now all these other people will have waited only a very short time, and it seemed unfair, but that is safari. There was now some noticeable activity at the front of the herd which we reckon was now numbering about 7,000. The Zebra were always braver than the wildebeest and had pushed their way to the front and were standing several meters into the river. This seemed to galvanise the wildebeest into action as a section to the right suddenly surged forward and pushed on out into the river. Within seconds the whole mass moved as one and the crossing was began in earnest.

It always strikes me as strange that no matter how wide the gathered herd maybe, they still only cross from the point where the first wildebeest entered the river. So with thousands of wildebeest funnelling down from the bank throwing up vast clouds of dust the whole scene became surreal.

The crossing was in full flow but there was a problem, a big problem, there was No easy exit. From our view point we could see it would be tricky as there were masses of large rocks between the river and the only two exit points we could see. The wildebeest were now starting to back up as the lead animals fought frantically to find an easy path through the rocks towards the two openings we could see. With the Wildebeest being held up some of them were now swiming down stream to try and find another way out. Some of the wildebeest had now found the exits and the others followed.

The Wildebeest who were caught up in the throng which had built up behind those who were caught on the rocks, were now literally treading water which was tiring them, and several had succumbed and drowned. There was no let up as the wildebeest kept coming causing many to turn back in panic not being able to exit the river easily. The situation now was, we had two flows of wildebeest moving in both directions and there was a steady flow of corpse starting to drift down stream. The body count was building steadily and now the wildebeest had to contend not only the rocks, but with the bodies of those who had gone before, before they could find their way out of this nightmare. They treated both the same, climbing over the bodies onto the rocks then finding a way through exhausted onto the plains of the Mara triangle.Some of the dead bodies were turning white as their skin was being shredded by the sharp edges of the hooves of the clambering wildebeest, disclosing the white flesh below.

An hour had passed and our first crossing was slowly turning from excitement and expectation into a state of despair and distress. The scene before us now was not the beautiful image of nature at it's best, but one of carnage and mayhem. The body count was going up and the flow of bodies floating down stream was making life easy for the crocodiles down river. Over the next hour thousands more wildebeest made it onto the plains of the Mara triangle, sadly many with broken limbs, and many being orphaned calves. It was a sad sight as the calves instinctively gathered together in a form of a crèche, their mournful bleats resounding in the still morning air that we feared would alert the predators waiting for the wildebeest's arrival. The Vultures had already started feeding on the eyes of the dead wildebeest, they would have to wait for a larger raptor to open the carcasses properly.

The wildebeest kept coming and we estimated there must have been about 5,000 who had crossed safely with probably about 2-3,000 more to come. A rough estimate of those who drowned was about 500, and one of the saddest sights was of wildebeest who were still alive but trapped within the mass of dead bodies, with just their heads showing, weakly trying to free themselves. Half way through I had stopped filming & taking photos, there really did not seem to be any point.

We were exhausted after three hours of what we had hoped to be the spectacular event we had looked forward to for so many years, and it was, but for all the wrong reason's. As we mad our way back to the lodge the vast herds of wildebeest were moving towards the Tanzanian border, and their monotone grunting had a more mournful tone to it now. There were no Lions in the direct vicinity, but they would not be far away, and the wildebeest in their injured & exhausted state would be an easy meal.

We checked the crossing site later in the afternoon, it was all quite, apart from the sound of squabbling Vultures, and a pair of Tawney eagles who were trying to open up one of the bodies. The scene before us was an extremely sad one and a heavy smell of death lay in the air as the bodies started to decay in the intense heat of the sun. We have seen many crossings since this one, and thankfully none of them like this one. No, they were all spectacular and the only casualties were au-natural by crocodiles.








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@@PHALANX we always hear how spectacular the migration is and how stunnung the mara crossings are. And they are, I have to say, hAving seen two crossings. But as your pictures show, there is always life and death, death making life more precious and celebratory. Thanks for sharing a poignant bittersweet experience.

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@@PHALANX Thank-you for this account of a 'different' crossing experience - it must have been difficult to witness.

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Thank you for sharing. How easy it is to forget about death.

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