Wildebeest Crossing, Northern Serengeti, Tanzania

If Central Serengeti is about big cats Northern Serengeti is about the crossing. It’s a spectacular sight. From June through September herds of wildebeest cross back and forth over the Mara River.  Some of the crossings, when the wildebeests fly of the cliffs, are quite dramatic. Others are more genial, wading across a shallow tributary in the soft glow of the late afternoon sun. Still others can be bloody when crocodiles lurk in the water taking down unsuspecting passers.

Crossings are unpredictable. The herds, sometimes mixed with zebra, gather on the river bank deciding whether and when to cross. If one jumps they will follow. If one runs in the opposite direction, they will also follow. Sometimes they just wander off, crossing at another time.

In 2021, with tourism way down due to the pandemic, there were fewer tourist filled vehicles waiting for the crossings. Pre-pandemic there could be hundreds of vehicles scouring the bank waiting and watching. This year there were a couple dozen at most.

Day 1

Our first morning a crossing looked promising. The wildebeest were gathering at the bank. The crossing would be better viewed from the opposite side of the river and after a short discussion on whether we should risk missing it Manny raced to the other side. He parked in the forest as did other vehicles as to not disturb the crossing. We waited and watched them wander in and out of the forest and along the bank for a couple of hours.

When they wandered down river, we went further down river and caught a small herd of elephant crossing the river in the opposite direction. We had just found some giraffe in good light when Manny got the call that the crossing had started. He raced back to the crossing point along a bumpy dirt road and parked along the bank in view of the wildebeest streaming towards the river and then plunging into the waters. Occasionally one hesitates, but then another one jumps and the steady stream starts again. From time to time they vary the route, but they keep coming until the last one is across.

Later in the afternoon we checked out the river again. Groupings of wildebeest were gathering again along the river. One large herd included zebra. A crossing looked promising but then the zebra moved away from the river and all the wildebeest followed.

We then went further up river along a tributary and caught the same herd mixed with zebra crossing. While crossing the shallow waters was not as dramatic as plunging into the river the seemingly endless stream of wildebeest and zebra in the late afternoon light was still a magical sight. There was just one other vehicle at this crossing and we were closer to the action. Near the end the wildebeest changed their exit point and started coming up the bank just behind our vehicle.

Following the Wildebeest Herd – Day 2

Our second morning we followed a massive wildebeest herd that stretched across the river banks and down a tributary. They were headed in one direction maybe down to the river then suddenly something changed and they headed off in the opposite direction. Zebras have a big influence and often lead them in one direction or another. Anything can spook these impulsive creatures. A baboon passes and they take off running, not knowing why, just that all the others are running and they don’t want to be last.

We watched them for quite a while, awed by their numbers. Manny noticed that a group was massing at the banks and headed down to the river. Soon the numerous bodies were plunging in the water frantically trying for the other side. A pod of hippos somehow got stuck in the surge and pushed to the side. Nothing gets in the way of the migration. The ascent on the other side was tricky, a steep dirt incline. While some struggled there were no casualties.

September 10-12, 2021

For links to all the posts in this series see the East Africa Safari page.

For a review of the tour company we used see Roy Safaris, Tanzania – Review.