Maasai Mara: Stage for the Great Migration

Maasai Mara: A game of life and death

The forests of Maasai Mara in Kenya is every wildlife photographer's dream. The natural golden light at dawn and dusk, the hues created by the grasslands and the canopy of trees, and the variety of animals make it a must go destination for animal lovers too.

I was intrigued watching predators pursue their preys on wildlife channels. The desire to watch the fastest animal in the world, cheetah, catch a Thomson’s gazelle by the neck or see the countless wild beasts take a blind leap of faith into the Mara River, filled with hungry crocodiles, was a dream that kept me awake for days.

And two months after I returned, it feels surreal that I watched a zebra give birth to a foal and in some distance away a pack of baboons tear a deer fawn into pieces, while it still cried for its life.

A 10-hour journey from Mumbai to Nairobi by air and another 10-hours from Nairobi by road is what it takes to reach the Maasai Mara National Reserve. And here we were, all geared up for a Safari in the land of the unexpected. My friends and I from Hubballi-Dharwad had rented a tent on the outskirts of the Mara - Game Reserve in Narok County, Kenya. We had planned for a five-day safari in the month of August, a month when the Great Migration is at its peak.

Since my childhood, I had heard tales about the Great Migration, a three-month event when countless wild beasts, zebras, antelopes migrate northwards from Tanzania to Maasai Mara in Kenya in search of greener pastures.

On day one, at the break of dawn, we were in our open jeep to explore the land of Maasai people - the ancestral inhabitants of the area. We were welcomed by the lords of the grasslands - a king and queen lions patrolling their territory. And by 9 am, we had captured almost all the inhabitants - leopards, cheetahs, rhinos, hippos, giraffes, ostriches, spotted-hyenas and others. And over the next four days, we saw innumerable animals and birds.

Unlike in South India, where the safaris are for a maximum of three hours, in the Maasai Mara, you spend the entire day in the wild.

Life goes on

As the tall grass at Tanzania starts falling short, nearly 1.5 million wild beasts along with 2,00,000 zebras and 3,50,000 antelopes start migrating towards the Mara. This migration, one of the greatest natural events that occur every year from July, alters the entire ecosystem of Greater Mara that also includes Koiyaki, Lemek, Ol Chorro Oirowua, Olkinyei, Siana, Maji Moto, Naikara, Ol Derkesi, Kerinkani, Oloirien and Kimintet.

As the herbivores start making their journey, the pride of lions, including the most documented marsh pride, the world famous "band of brothers" (five cheetahs), solitary leopards and the crocodiles of Mara River wait with bated breath to ensure that they survive the harsher days in August.

It is hunger and thirst which act as the seed for all the action. The animals travel thousands of kilometres in search of grass and water. All animals are experiencing a cycle where they have been giving birth and the predators are trying to seize the opportunity and hunt the newborns as they are the easiest targets.

The most awaited event during our journey was the crossing of the Mara River by the wild beasts. Thousands jumped into the strong current of the river, some were torn alive by the crocodiles and few others washed away by the river itself, but a majority of them crossed over unharmed. 

It was an intense moment as one could see death stalking these poor creatures. The river is home to the largest crocodiles and hippos which attack them while the animals take a leap of faith for survival. 

Nature’s law of survival of the fittest is best seen here. While the prey makes all efforts to escape the jaws of death, the predators are ensured that they have sufficient food not just for themselves, but also to pass on to their next generation.

We began the journey with an intention to photograph the animals during the Great Migration, but in the end, we empathised with the animals, be it a predator, which has to kill to survive, or the prey, which has to be alert to just stay alive. It is all about life and death in these endless plains of the Mara for the hunter and the hunted, in an eternal struggle for survival.

(Pictures by Anoop Otageri from Dharwad, Balakrishna A Kulkarni and Amith Rao from Hubballi)

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