The Death Water (Mara River) of the Wildebeest Migration in Kenya

They journey across the Serengeti into the Mara is not devoid of adventure. The wildebeests have traveled scores of miles to face one of the greatest task at hand. Many of them hardly know that fate is preparing a cauldron of death in their dip across the Mara River. There are some that do know it.

They are veterans of this Seventh Wonder of the World. They have traversed the Serengeti before, survived the Mara river and what lies ahead. They remember their brothers and sisters a year ago who failed to make it across. Today it may be them. Or perhaps they may live again and the ill luck may fall on the new comers who are oblivious to what lies in those brown waters. A few cows are pregnant with calves. They will give birth once they have crossed and settled in the Mara plain where the rainfall will be sufficient for food for their children. A few zebras and gazelles have joined the wildebeests quests. They are not exempt from the death waters either.

The flatness of the Tanzanian Serengeti land comes to an end and drops several feet into a gorge. On the other side is a similar mass of land. The string of dirty water called the Mara is an interception to their quest. There is no bridge or way around it. It separates the two land masses and the only way is across. The throng of wildebeests approaching the gorge increases and soon there is a thick blackness of herbivores at the riverbank of the death waters. The wildebeests at the front scurry away from the gorge, probably by the natural fear that still waters run deep. However, a few of the new comers can sense from the veterans that the real fear isn’t the drowning from the depth of the river. They look at the veterans, hoping to get some sense of direction as to what to do. The veterans don’t respond. They know that this journey could be a one way trip. They stare at the flowing Mara River and stand unmoved. Those big glossy eyes reflect their coffins. Today could be a good day to die. The throng increases and soon, the beasts at the front cannot contain the pressure. The animals push forward. The ones at the rear keep pushing, unfamiliar of what is ahead. A traffic jam in the wild of 1.5 million wildebeests commences. And just like the snarl-ups in the cities, they push to advance not knowing what danger awaits them ahead. In no time, the first beast leaps. The fearful ones back away. They are not sure if it is inordinate courage or boundless stupidity that caused him to forge ahead.


They watch.

His name is Kovu. It is his first wildebeest migration and his last. He crosses the river that reaches his eye level. He strains to stretch his neck out so that he can see the way ahead. He has to swim. He doesn’t understand why his brothers and sisters are afraid of a little water. Except for a few ripples caused by the afternoon breeze, the waters are quiet and undisturbed. Then all of a sudden, the water’s temperament changes. On his right, his eye caught some splashing from the riverbank ahead. He didn’t see what it was. It was moving too fast for his eye. On his left, he saw a similar splash. This time he saw something more. A long scaly tail followed the splash into the river. The rest of the wildebeests watch in horror as Kovu is targeted by Mother Nature’s food chain. He is almost halfway across. He doesn’t see the pairs of eyes approaching him at tremendous speeds. Kovu begins to notice a series of ripples move against the current. That is strange. He looks on his other side and sees similar ripples, only this time moving with the current. The ripples begin to close in on him. Kovu’s heart pounds heavily. He can smell it. It’s the smell of fear. This is what the veterans feared. This is what kept them immobilized. He could swear that the whole Savannah heard his heart beating. He would ask the other wildebeests what was going on after he made it to the other side. He didn’t live to find out their answer.

The migration saw the crocodiles edge in on poor Kovu. They snapped his neck in two quick successions of bites and Kovu was no more. That part of the river darkened with a red substance carried away by the water. It was followed by violent splashing and growling of the crocodiles as they pulled apart Kovu’s legs and sank their jaws into his tender flesh. The fear was now fully fledged. No one was oblivious to the death in the waters. The veterans race ahead! They can see a window of opportunity. As the crocodiles devour the rookie’s body, they have the chance to get across safely as fast as they can. But the new comers are not too sure. They look back. It is impossible to scale the gorges and return to dry land. Some try but are trampled to death by the pushing throng. Their corpses fall into the river and float away. In a few moments, more crocodiles downstream swim up. The floating carcasses and the smell of blood in the river alerted them of the migration. The veterans make it across safely. A few courageous new comers had followed suite and made it to the other side. The 1.5 million animals struggle to keep close. United they may have a chance. However, the waters are foreign territories and no amount of unity could save them here. Still, they throng in their crossing. Kovu’s meat is done and the crocodiles are hungry for more. They can see their fellow reptilian family come up towards the crossing.

Fear propels the pack of wildebeests. The beasts on the side are not too lucky. They suffer Kovu’s fate. They cry out in excruciating agony as the carnivorous teeth sink into their flesh. They struggle to fight but they feel another sharp bite on their neck. They begin to gasp for air as the reptiles begin to drown them. Their blood vessels burst at the bites and consequently attract more death bites. Soon, their nostrils are flooded with their own blood. The reptiles pull them deeper. It’s too late. They die from their bleeding before they can drown. The successful crocodiles pull their meals to the shore and devour them ravenously. One zebra and a few antelopes were caught in the death waters’ fate. Lives are lost in the pack but hope is not. The last wildebeest makes it out of the death waters and joins the rest of the pack as they enter the gates of Kenya’s Maasai Mara. They have come far and still have quite a distance to cover. The savannah plains don’t look intimidating but the veterans know better. Here in the plains of the Mara, the pack faces yet again a dangerous foe.


The journey continues.