A YEAR-ROUND AFFAIR
The question is often asked, ‘when is the best time to visit the Mara?’ To be truthful, there is not one correct answer, as safari travellers to the Mara are assured of astonishing and abundant wildlife sightings all year round.
For guests wanting to experience the Great Migration and the dramatic crossings of the Mara River, July through September or October are the best months to visit. Others prefer a gentler time with less visitors and have the Mara all to themselves – together with the numerous resident herds which quite rightly do not deem it necessary to leave this beautiful reserve by embarking on the annual trek to Tanzania.
Although the Maasai Mara is especially renowned for its prides of lions (including the Angama Pride, just below the lodge), the other members of Africa’s Big Five – leopard, elephant, buffalo and black rhino – are also regularly sighted, together with hyena, jackal, cheetah and the bat-eared fox, and of course the Mara River is home to numerous pods of hippo and some of Africa’s largest crocodiles. Great photographic opportunities present themselves with topi standing perched on anthills, Maasai giraffe moving gracefully across the plains, and both Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelles grazing peacefully amongst Coke’s hartebeest, impala and herds of lovely eland, the continent’s largest antelope.
The Mara Triangle is also home to more than 470 bird species, including almost 60 raptors such as vultures and martial eagles. Surely the loveliest of them all has to be the graceful crowned crane, always found in pairs, together with secretary birds, lilac-breasted rollers, long-crested eagles, superb starlings, pygmy falcons and endangered ground hornbills to name just a few.
Angama Mara’s experienced guides make every effort to deliver life-changing wildlife adventures for their guests, be it for first timers, birding enthusiasts, photographers of all skill levels, or safari devotees whose great joy is just to simply be amongst Africa’s creatures, both great and small.
ON THE MOVE – THE GREAT MIGRATION
Around July, the rainy season comes to an end and the Mara is carpeted in tall, rippling swathes of seeding grass. To the south, the oceans of Serengeti fodder have been denuded by over a million wildebeest that have been milling around, rutting, mating and feeding since late March and April. They are not alone. Over 200,000 zebra are part of the procession. Slowly but steadily, this tide of herbivores moves north in what is known as the Great Migration.
It could be in the last week of July – perhaps sooner or later depending on rainfall patterns – but eventually over half a million of these wildebeest and zebra cross the invisible border that demarcates Kenya from Tanzania, and the Maasai Mara from the Serengeti. Like any invasion, there are always frontrunners. Bands of bewildered-looking wildebeest canter in loose columns, wide-eyed and alert to the dangers of awaiting predators. Beyond them, the rising clouds of dust betray the vast herds.
Migratory wildebeest may enter through the eastern Maasai Mara but the herds that marched north through the Serengeti’s Western Corridor are programmed to overcome one last hurdle: to reach the pastures that will sustain them through the dry season, they must cross the Mara River.
No matter how high the river is, or how rapidly it is flowing, the wildebeest and zebra are not deterred. To cross, they must withstand the crash-landing of leaping off the embankment, avoid the jaws of crocodiles and lions that wait in ambush, paddle and thrash their way across the river, and finally they must hope that they do not get simply crushed in the commotion. A good many have their journey tragically ended at the crossing points, and in some years, piles of carcasses accumulate to provide an ongoing banquet for crocodiles and vultures.
The Great Migration is a clockwise, round-trip journey of around 600km during which an estimated 250,000 wildebeest perish each year. Exhaustion, hunger, injury and predation are the main factors, with newborns within their first year and those older than fifteen being the most vulnerable.
As the star of the show, with its shoebox snout, spindly legs and tousled beard, the wildebeest looks a little less than elegant, and appears to have been put together by a committee. In addition to its ungainly appearance, it seems – even at the best of times – to be a somewhat confused and bewildered creature. But like everything else, it is built for a purpose, and that is to consume vast quantities of grass and have enough stamina to cover great distances. Often simply called a gnu (which is a fairly good description of its singular vocal ability), in both of these roles, the wildebeest excels.