A Wildebeest River Crossing in the Serengeti
Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.
Arguably the greatest wildlife spectacle in Africa, the migration of two million wildebeest across the Serengeti Plains climaxes with a series of perilous river crossings.
Crossing the River
The build-up to a Mara river crossing is tense and unpredictable. Thousands of wildebeest aggregate at a favoured crossing point, teasing themselves (and a few human spectators) for hours, even days. Occasionally they peer over the edge of the riverbank, dithery and indecisive, before withdrawing back into the bush. Once there, they mill around aimlessly. The level of agitation within the herd rises and falls. It regularly manifests itself in a pitched outbreak of plaintive and hysterical communal braying that ends as suddenly as it starts.
Finally, after several false starts, an unidentifiable trigger or moment of madness compels a few to leap from the bank. They hurtle blindly into the water. The rest of the herd follows in an adrenalin-charged surge. They charge shoulder high through the river to erupt thunderously onto the opposite bank. It’s a perilous enterprise.
Misjudged high-water crossings sweep away and drown several thousand wildebeest every year. Outsized crocodiles weave gape-mouthed through the crossing herd, ready to snatch down any individual that makes a false move. And, on the opposite bank, lions lurk in wait. They eye their prey, ready to slaughter as many emerging wildebeests as they can lay their paws on.
A Sight to Behold
For the human spectator, it's a breathtaking and utterly unforgettable experience. It is visually three-dimensional, aurally magnificent, infused with an infectious aura of chaos and confusion, and tangibly charged with adrenalin. The first time I experienced a crossing, I stood on the riverbank - metres away from where the wildebeest emerged. It felt like the game-viewing equivalent of being exposed to IMAX, after a lifetime watching videos on the small screen.
Snapshots of Wildlife
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