Born to run: chasing the great wildebeest migration

A herd of wildebeest contemplating making the river crossing to the Serengeti
© Andrew Brown/2021/Kenya

In August each year, 2.2 million wildebeest, along with hundreds of thousands of zebra and antelope, migrate from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in Kenya, in search of greener pastures. Along the way, they cross the Sand River and then the wide, crocodile infested Mara River. As the rains change, they do the same journey in reverse. These crossings are one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on Earth, as desperate animals fight for survival. After each crossing, there are a few less wildebeest.

This was something my whole family wanted to see while we were living in Kenya. But finding 2.2 million wildebeest in the Maasai Mara was harder than I thought. At 1,500 square kilometres, the Mara is vast, and the Serengeti is even larger. Finding the wildebeest at the exact moment that they decide to cross a river is almost impossible. But not quite.

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Photos: Wildlife of Maasai Mara

Naserian the cheetah, looking for prey from the vantage point of a termite mound
© Andrew Brown/2021/Kenya

I’ve visited the Maasai Mara three times so far during my time in Kenya, and been blown away by the experience each time. It’s the only place where I’ve seen a cheetah kill, watched the great wildebeest migration or had a sunset beer a few metres away from a sleeping crocodile. On two trips, we benefitted from a genuine Maasai guide, Moses, who grew up in the area and knows the landscape and wildlife intimately. And one of the very few up sides of the COVID-19 pandemic is that the animals were thriving and there were very few visitors, aside from a few Nairobi residents like us, so it often felt like we had the whole national park to ourselves.

Here is a selection of my favourite photos from the three visits:

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Wild thing: visiting the Maasai Mara during a pandemic (pt2)

Moses looks out for wildlife through his binoculars, while Joyce and the kids have a snack
© Andrew Brown/2020/Kenya

The COVID-19 pandemic that swept the world in 2020 seemed to upend everything. Busy city streets became deserted, aeroplanes disappeared from the skies and face masks became ubiquitous. Having spent the first year of the pandemic in Nairobi and Hong Kong, we saw reminders everywhere we looked. But one place at least seemed unaffected: the Maasai Mara. Here, antelopes, giraffes and wildebeests kept grazing the savannah, exactly as before. Lions and cheetahs kept on hunting them, oblivious to our human disease. Even the semi-nomadic Maasai people continued life much as before, herding their cattle across the open plains.

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Cheetah kill: visiting the Maasai Mara during a pandemic (pt1)

An elephant calf turns to look at its mother, in the Maasai Mara
© Andrew Brown/2020/Kenya

It was a clear November morning on the Maasai Mara. The afternoon storm clouds had not yet arrived, but the grass and trees were lush and green from the previous day’s rain. Wild animals roamed freely along the banks of the Mara River and through the savanna – herds of impala, giraffe and zebra, plus large numbers of wildebeest remaining from the recent ‘great migration’. This being Enonkishu Conservancy rather than the true national park, there were also occasional mud brick villages, schools and churches. Maasai herders, some wearing distinctive red shuka robes, watched herds of cattle or drove down the dirt roads on motorbikes. Continue reading “Cheetah kill: visiting the Maasai Mara during a pandemic (pt1)”