Wildebeest Herd Crossing the Mara River in the Northern Serengetiby Dave Burns | Posted in Story Behind the Photo |
One of the highlights of any safari to the Serengeti is seeing a herd of wildebeest crossing a river. A thousand or more animals line up on the far bank of the river and then all it takes is one or two bold ones to trigger the rush. Dust flies into the air and creates back-lit clouds, the wildebeest plunge into the water, and swim across to climb the other bank. Sometimes the risk doesn’t pay off – a crocodile takes one or a weak one stumbles and gets carried away by the current – but the sheer size of the herd dictates that you will see massive numbers of wildebeest emerge on the near bank, fur appearing black from being soaked in the water.
You can’t see this spectacle any time of year. The best time to see wildebeest crossings is around July as they migrate north and around September as they migrate south again. This can be unpredictable though and can vary plus or minus a few weeks either direction depending on a given year’s weather. There is a certain amount of luck involved to see a “good” crossing and it definitely requires some patience.
We saw several good crossings on my safari in July 2017 when we stayed in the northern Serengeti. One afternoon after a picnic lunch, we drove up to the Mara River, close to the Kenyan border. Other guides had told us that the herds were close to the river and when we arrived, we could see the herds massing on the other side. Wildebeest know they are entering a vulnerable situation so they are very skittish about beginning to cross. We ended up waiting almost 3 hours for them to begin. Until then, they moved up and down the other side, unsure of where to go.
I took many photographs of this scene but I put my cameras down to shoot this video of the crossing handheld with my iPhone 6S.
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