Masai Mara National Reserve Stories and Tips

Crocs at the Ready - the Mara River

A zebra crossing? Photo, Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

I’m pretty bored by television these days.

The diet of predictable programmes means I’m pretty picky what I watch. While still having favourites I tend to lean towards history, travel and wildlife programmes. Over the years wildlife programmes, particularly by the BBC, have been an absolute pleasure. I’m not sure why it is? Whether after a hard day at the office I’d rather watch wild animals snapping at each other than human beings doing the same.

But a staple ingredient of these programmes is the crossing of the Mara River by the wildebeest migration. It adds that little edge of danger and drama as the gigantic Nile crocodiles come out of their stupor ready for a glut of dumb herbivores all trying to cross at the same time. With David Attenborough’s hushed tones they build up the tension as the herds gather on the bank – eyeing the water suspiciously while the crocodiles manoeuvre to the best places to catch the nervous animals.

After watching these programmes for many years the thought visiting the Mara River at migration time was just not conceivable. But on the second day of our trip to the Mara I found myself bumping down the track to said river with a sense of disbelief and excitement. Our guide, George, said during the rains we may not make as the tracks may be too boggy. Every rut was filled with water and it was a struggle but the four-wheel drive van got us through the forty or so miles down to the Tanzanian border and the Mara River.

On the way we passed thousands of zebras. They fanned out across the horizon in huge numbers. They would also take advantage of the flatness of our track. The zebra used it ahead of us like a highway. George would come up behind them in the van and wait until they realised something was behind them. They would sprint off the track or the exceptionally stupid ones would keep running until they realised getting out of the way was the better option. I could watch these magnificent creatures all day. I like the way the babies, who kept with their mothers, were a sort of chocolate brown rather than jet black.

We were now approaching the southern boundary of the reserve where it blends in with the Serengeti Plains. A little further on was a sign announcing g the Mara River. A small car park was coated in muddy hippo footprints and droppings. We scrambled over a few rocks to gaze at the river. It was quite wide at this point. It was muddy brown in colour and the other side had cliffs of sandy earth. The gaps in the cliffs had been trampled over hundreds of years by animals crossing en masse. Five hippos were in the water – grey backs contrasting with the brown water.

The hippos could be heard from the bank by much grunting and snorting. Armed guides were there to show us the hippo pools upstream. So we were led by one young man armed with a rifle along a cliff edge. It wasn’t an easy trail and at times we had to climb over streams, feel our way along slippery slopes and pull ourselves along by tree roots. But eventually we reached the flattened meadows surrounding the river. The compressed earth was where the herds gather/recover before and after a crossing.

But as we stood on the cliff and the guide picked out reptilian obstacles in the river. Laid up under the cliffs were the famous Mara Nile crocodiles. Huge brutes about 12 foot long. I could pick out spiny tails and flattened heads. The guide showed us a part where a crossing had occurred the previous week. The place was strewn with bleached bones and skulls.

On the way back across the plains we spotted a van with BBC decals on its side. We hailed it and it was a crew making a documentary on ‘The Rift Valley’ and getting some inserts. The whole crew had booked out the expensive and luxurious ‘Governors Camp’.

Glad to know my licence fee is put to good use.

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