Masai Mara Wildebeest Migration: Hippos Rescue a Wildebeest

Wim’s News from the Wildebeest Migration Safari: 

Another clear day dawned, and realising that this would be great for crossings we headed straight to the river, arriving as the sun rose.

Before us we found that there were animals on the plains as far as the eye could see.

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Many of the wildebeest, zebra, and Tommies had crossed moments before dawn. We could see another buildup of animals and realised that a crossing was imminent.

And as always, the crossing was accompanied by all the fear, hesitation, dust, mud, animal bellows and drama that one associates with each event. And as always we found our hearts pounding as we tried to focus on particular dramas occurring within the spectrum of the whole event.

This crossing lasted for about 30 minutes, and for quite some time the cacophony was accompanied by a barrage of shutter-buttons as everyone captured aspects of the crossing animals in the river.

Then a scene had us all watching with wide-open eyes … and sweaty palms!

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A wildebeest started to make the crossing, but we realised very quickly that the poor animal was completely exhausted, even before it started to swim. Frantically it struggled, and battled to make some headway. But no! The current, although not strong, was just too much for the battling wildebeest. With a look of terror in its eyes, it began to drift downstream, and its pathetic attempts to swim were overcome by its sheer lack of energy. It was drained!

Then the current took the wildebeest right into a pod of hippos. They reacted immediately, but we could not quite make out what they were doing. Jaws wide open they approached the spent animal – were they biting it? But there were no signs of damage. Again and again, one by one, the hippos approached with those big gaping jaws. We were mesmerised. Were they attacking?

Gradually, the hippos nudged the worn-out wildebeest closer to the bank. When it reached the shore, we could not suppress a cheer as it stumbled out, too fatigued to take another step. It stood there, right on the edge of the river, unable to move for about 20-25 minutes. Eventually it recovered sufficiently to join the remainder of the herd on the plains. 

It is amazing how these small, individual dramas really affect one, and it was with an immense sigh of relief that we saw the wildebeest walk away with a bit of renewed energy.

Whew! After all that tension we were ready for a coffee break. We strolled around our chosen break spot, feeling our pulse rates returning to normal, and relishing that delicious steaming brew.

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Hah! Our pulse rates were about to escalate again.

As we left our coffee spot we saw that a large male was lying in the cover of a small bush less than 100 meters from us. However, the weather was hot, he was hot, and he was in no mood to do anything other than lift his head for a cursory look at us. In fact we stopped there for lunch again, but the lion didn’t even bother to glance at us.

We returned to our vantage point for the crossing, and while waiting for the animals to congregate for a crossing we noticed two lions lying under a bush. Like the lion we had seen, these two were not keen to move during the heat of the day … unless a meal was maybe presented to them on a plate as it were.

And there they came. A couple of zebras strolled over to the exact bush with the lions, and, oblivious to their presence, started to feed on the bush. Any second now, we thought! At least one zebra is a goner! We kept our cameras ready …

But the reaction was unpredictable – and fabulous. Suddenly the lions woke up, and startled, the one lifted its head to see what was chomping on their sheltering bush. The startled zebras did one of those comical leaps into the air with fright, and galloped away so quickly that with feet barely able to make contact with the ground. The lion watched the zebras disappear, then plonked his head back on the ground, too hot to react.

Our drive back to the camp was a little slower than before, giving us time to enjoy the sunset, and to stop whenever a suitable subject became available to photograph in the foreground. As one can imagine, we stopped for elephants, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, different antelope, birds …

Tomorrow we plan to head straight back to the excitement of the crossings ..