Doc­u­ment­ing mi­gra­tion in the Maa­sai Mara

Muscat Daily - - FRONT PAGE -

Few sights in the an­i­mal king­dom il­lus­trate life’s bloody strug­gle in a more vis­ceral way than the great mi­gra­tion. This per­pet­ual move­ment of an­i­mals be­tween Tan­za­nia and Kenya, fol­low­ing the best sea­sonal graz­ing in the Serengeti Na­tional Park and Maa­sai Mara Na­tional Re­serve, reaches the croc­o­dile-in­fested wa­ters of the Mara River in mid- to late July. Breath­tak­ing num­bers of weary wilde­beests, ze­bras, gazelles, im­pala, and eland face this wa­tery chal­lenge dur­ing the world’s largest an­i­mal mi­gra­tion - a life-and-death lot­tery. For those that make it, greener pas­tures await … as do the big cats Wilde­beests on the Move

Blue wilde­beests, also known as white-bearded wilde­beests, make up the bulk of the great mi­gra­tion that cov­ers 1,200 miles of the Serengeti and Maa­sai Mara. The rum­bling mass of 1.5mn hoofed beasts heads north from the Serengeti’s dry, de­pleted grasses to the Maa­sai Mara’s greener plains, with the first herds cross­ing the treach­er­ous wa­ters of the Mara River from mid- to late July. By Jan­uary the beasts have made their way back to the south­ern Serengeti again where about half a mil­lion calves are born through March, be­fore dry grasses prompt their de­par­ture in May again.

Whether you are plan­ning a trip or just want to fol­low the fas­ci­nat­ing jour­ney from afar, a team at the Univer­sity of Glas­gow has col­lab­o­rated with a re­search group in Tan­za­nia, which al­lows you to track var­i­ous an­i­mals in the park in real time.

Croc­o­diles

The still­ness of the Mara River’s Nile croc­o­diles as they wait for the ar­rival of their prey makes the mo­ment they snap into ac­tion all the more ter­ri­fy­ing. Reach­ing a max­i­mum of about 20ft in length and 1,650lbs in weight - sec­ond only to the salt­wa­ter croc­o­dile - these crocs can sur­vive for long pe­ri­ods with­out food, but when they do eat, they can fill up on half their own body weight at one sit­ting.

This most un­lik­able of crea­tures does have one redeem­ing fea­ture, how­ever, as a re­spon­si­ble par­ent. Un­like most other rep­tiles, Nile croc­o­diles guard their eggs and gen­tly roll them in their mouths to help them hatch.

Leop­ards

A herd of wilde­beests sur­vives cross­ing the croc­o­dile-in­fested Mara River, only to stray into the path of a leop­ard on the other bank.

Cy­cle of Life

It’s har­row­ing to wit­ness seem­ingly end­less num­bers of weary wilde­beests lin­ing up on the banks of the Mara River be­fore tak­ing their chances against hun­gry croc­o­diles and cur­rents. About 10,000 an­i­mals die in the river ev­ery year, but their plight is es­sen­tial to the ecosys­tem, pro­vid­ing food for the crocs, vul­tures, and fish, as well as nutri­ents for the river.

Bal­loon­ing

While there’s noth­ing quite like view­ing wildlife at close quar­ters on sa­fari, bal­loon­ing pro­vides an­other amaz­ing per­spec­tive. From up high, you can take in the vast Serengeti (its name de­rives from the Maa­sai lan­guage, mean­ing “end­less plains”) and huge num­bers of an­i­mals on the move across the Maa­sai Mara game re­serve and at the river cross­ing.

Early Start

Set your alarm be­fore 5am for un­for­get­table sun­rise launches and post­flight break­fasts from Serengeti Bal­loon Sa­faris and Mara Bal­loon­ing.

Preda­tors

the The cast of preda­tors in story of the great mi­gra­tion and in­cludes lions, leop­ards, chee­tahs. The abun­dant the source of meat means lion pop­u­la­tion sits at about 3,000, mak­ing the Serengeti one of the best places in acAfrica to see big cats in tion or (more likely) slum­ber­ing, con­sid­er­ing lions spend up to 20 hours a day sleep­ing - espe­cially af­ter a feed­ing.

Gazelles, a Chee­tah, and a Jackal

A herd of Thom­son’s gazelles keeps a watch­ful eye on a chee­tah and a jackal as they graze the sa­vanna of Kenya’s Maa­sai Mara re­serve.

Ze­bras

About 200,000 ze­bras add a touch of striped glam­our to the muddy-gray mass of wilde­beests. They’re usu­ally first to ar­rive in the Maa­sai Mara re­serve fol­low­ing the river cross­ing, and they stay put through Oc­to­ber, when the first herds be­gin their jour­ney south again along the east­ern edge of the Serengeti in search of new grasses.

Ze­bras’ bold mark­ings have long puz­zled bi­ol­o­gists, given the num­ber of preda­tors on the prowl - the­o­ries in­clude their stripes hav­ing a cool­ing ef­fect (sci­en­tists have found the hot­ter the lo­ca­tion the more stripes a ze­bra has), a way of re­pelling dis­ease-caus­ing in­sects, and an op­ti­cal il­lu­sion when mixed with grass­land to con­fuse preda­tors.

On Sa­fari

Tourists gather along the Mara River to wit­ness the stun­ning sight of wilde­beests, ze­bras, gazelles, eland, and im­pala tak­ing their chances against the croc­o­diles and cur­rents. While the mi­gra­tion times can vary slightly each year, the river cross­ing is at a peak through July and Au­gust.

Sin­gita Mara River Tented Camp

Base your­self at a river camp to wit­ness the ac­tion close at hand. Sin­gita’s Mara camp in Tan­za­nia is a beauty, with plenty of eco-cre­den­tials (en­tirely so­lar-pow­ered and us­ing re­cy­cled and nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als). Four one-bed­room en suite tents and two fam­ily tents have stylish in­te­ri­ors, com­bin­ing can­vas, wood, and leather with vi­brant Maa­sai hues and lo­cal art­work. There’s a plunge pool, spa tent, and liv­ing ar­eas that ex­tend to decks where you can spot big cats, croc­o­diles, ele­phants, and hip­pos year-round. Be aware the price you’ll pay for be­ing at the cen­ter of the ac­tion is the heady aroma of wilde­beests on the move dur­ing mi­gra­tion time.

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