Our Tsavo West leopard. I think he's aiming for a starring role on Animal Planet.
7. The wildebeest migration. Every year, between about September and November, more than a million wildebeest migrate in a big circle through the Serengeti plains. They cross from Tanzania in the south into the Maasai Mara, eat every blade of grass in their way, and then wander back home. (As a side note--apparently wildebeests can live between 15-20 years, so some of them having been doing this migration for a long time. You'd think they'd have it better organized by the fifteeneth or sixteenth time.)
You see, wildebeests are not incredibly smart. They're also not incredibly beautiful, but that's another topic. Wildebeests will congregate at one side of the river they plan to cross and then mill around. For hours. While more and more wildebeests arrive from behind until eventually I kept expecting that one would just shoved in. What usually happens is that a zebra goes first. I don't know why. But once the first set of hooves hits the water, it's like an electric shock to the rest. They just go crazy, streaming into and over the river as quicky as they can.
And quickly is a good idea. There are crocodiles in them there waters. It's a good bet that some of those wildebeests are going to get crocced (as I endearingly heard it called.) So what do the tourists do? We sit around in our cars for hours, watching the milling wildebeests, wishing we could get out of the safari vehicle and shove one into the river ourselves, and then we find ourselves cheering when a croc takes one down. There's something about sitting in the sun for two hours (especially when one requires a restroom) that makes one quite bloodthirsty.
Not that there was any blood to see. Mostly what we saw of the crocodiles were the enormous and sudden explosions of water that marked one snatching a wildebeest out of the line. We did see one dead wildebeest floating downstream (our driver said that crocs will kill a bunch and let them float away then track down their bodies to eat later--it's emergency preparedness is what it is.)
But the vast majority of wildebeests made it across. There were a couple small ones that got lost, coming up farther south on the shore than their comrades and not able to figure out a way to join the rest. And then there were a bunch who, once they reached the other side, jumped back into the river AND SWAM BACK THE WAY THEY CAME! Honestly, it's hard not to think of them as stupid when they do that. I mean, they just survived a dangerous crossing. Now they're tempting fate (and crocodiles) by doing it again?
It was an amazing sight. None more so than the moment when it just stopped. As suddenly as it had begun, the line broke and the remaining tens of thousands of wildebeests on our side of the river went back to milling around. Personally, I think they just forgot what they were doing. Who knows how long it took them to remember. For ourselves, we had seen our crossing.
And I really, really needed a restroom.