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Kenya (8/28-8/31)

September 1st, 2006 · No Comments

The Wildebeest Migration!!! Every summer over 1.4 million wildebeest and 200,000 zebra and gazelle, relentlessly tracked by Africa‚Äôs great predators, migrate from the Tanzanian Serengeti to Kenya’s Masai Mara in search of rain ripened grass. And we were there to see it! Read below for amusing stories, watch incredible (and some rather graphic) videos, and see some amazing photos!

For photos, click here:

Masai Mara

Kimberly

I already explained that the concentration of wildlife in Ngorongoro made South Africa look like nothing special…well, the Masai Mara was in an even different league! We were there during the annual Wildebeest migration, which meant not only that there were lots of Wildebeest, but also many other herbivores who accompanied them on their journey (Zebra & Gazelles mostly)..not to mention the predators that follow closely looking for a tasty meal. The variety of wildlife was really just astonishing.

We had to transfer to the smaller Wilson airport for our “bush plane” flight to the Mara. We saw other planes leaving that were just tiny…so we were surprised when our plane arrived. It was a normal sized passenger jet. And we were really shocked to learn that we would be the forth stop in the Mara….meaning our giant plane took off and landed on the dirt “runway”in the middle of the Masai Mara reserve three times before we got to our stop!

On our first game drive that evening, our guide asked us what we wanted to see. I told him that we had seen everything except Cheetah, so if he could find us one, that would be great. Sure enough, in about twenty minutes he had found us, not one, but two Cheetah brothers! They were literally feet away from the safari vehicle and very undisturbed by our presence. Of all the animals we saw on our trip, I found these the most beautiful by far. There is something just so graceful about the way they walk and stand, surveying the territory. In fact, I think Dan and I both found them a little too enthralling…as, at one point, we were both unknowingly hanging out of the windows of the vehicle to get better vantage points for photos….Dan was videoing one Cheetah when, all of a sudden, he realized the other one was walking directly underneath him…yes, like within petting (or attacking) distance. Watch the video here, it’s one of my favorites from the entire trip! Cheetah close encounter

We were staying at the Fig Tree Camp, which is located on the Talek river in the center of the park. Our deluxe “tent” was certainly the nicest tent I have ever stayed in. This place was nothing like the luxury safari resorts we stayed at in South Africa, but it was still quite nice. The tent is kind of like a tent built into a hotel bungalow. So there was a full bathroom attached, electricity, normal beds and closets…just a tent for a roof and a door. It was quite a nice way to experience the bush without actually camping. The hotel was fine, but nothing special. Meals were dreadful…really, just awful. The guides were O.K., but the big problem is that they just stick you in a car with a random group of people for every drive. We were told that we could go out for an extended drive and eat our breakfast or lunch in the bush (which is the only way you can get to the other parts of the park…where the wildebeest are, for example). However, they kept putting us with groups of people who were leaving that day, and thus couldn’t take the extended game drive.

Finally, on our last day, we managed to put together a group so we could have breakfast in the bush. It was amazing! We sat on a log in the middle of the savannah and ate our yogurt with the chorus of nearby wildebeest in the background. Afterwards we continued on to the eastern part of the park where we found thousands of wildebeest frolicking with hundreds of other animals…at one point, we counted 12 giraffe, 30 zebra, 5 hartebeest, 6 topi, not to mention the thousands (yes, literally thousands) of wildebeest! And then came the real treat…we really lucked out…we managed to arrive at the Mara river at the same time as a herd of Wildebeest. This is the really famous crossing, where the animals hurl themselves off the cliff into the river and try to swim across before a crocodile, lion, or other predator gets to them first.

It was fascinating to watch the chaos and disorder of the whole thing. First there were a bunch of wildebeest on the far side of the river who seemed to want to cross. They came all the way down to the bank of the river to drink, but no one wanted to be the first in the water. But then, all of a sudden another herd of Wildebeest arrived from behind us and stood at the top of the cliff moaning. After about twenty minutes of the wildebeest running back and forth, probably encouraging each other to just jump in already, the wildebeest on our side of the river started plunging into the water and scrambling across to the other side. Here is a video of the crossing: Wildebeest Mara River crossing.

The other highlight of our trip was certainly the Hot Air Balloon flight we took over the Masai Mara one morning. I have never done a balloon flight before, but I think I have certainly been spoiled for life now! The view of the thousands of Wildebeest, often lined up in a single-file-line (don’t ask why) moving slowly across the Mara plains…it was absolutely breathtaking. And every time our balloon pilot fired the torch, the animals would get startled and start stampeding…it was amazing! We landed the balloon only a few kilometers from the Tanzanian border, where a full champagne breakfast was waiting for us. No, I am not joking, they even had an omelet station! Here are some videos from our flight:
Hot air balloon inflating
Hot air balloon launch
Wildebeest migration from balloon
Wildebeest frolicking, view from Hot Air Balloon

The only thing that we did not see during our safari adventures was a hunt. Every time we found predators, we hoped they were hungry, because we really wanted to watch the chase. Unfortunately, no luck for us. We did manage to stumble upon a very fresh kill one afternoon though. A pack of Lions had just hunted a Wildebeest, and we were there to watch the last few moments of its life…followed by some very graphic meal-time. There was one point where one of the female lions had her head completely inside the Wildebeest’s gut! If you are curious, here is some video from the meal: Lion dinner time. There was this one lion cub that was very enthusiastic about the process….he decided that he wanted to try to eat the Wildebeest’s head. He started with the horn, but wasn’t sure what to do with that…then he went for it’s teeth and lips…he had positioned himself on top of its head, straddling its neck…and then he fe
ll off. It was hilarious! We have a short video of the antics, Lion cub kissing wildebeest (But lots of pictures.)

If you are interested in other videos, here are some highlights from other parts of our trip.

Elephants bully Giraffe
Hyena breakfast (graphic)
Lion cub has an itch
Wildebeest playtime
Hakuna Matata, again
Masai Jumpers

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