We finally made it! …. After 4 months of searching out chameleons, sunbirds and squirrels in our Nairobi garden, our lock-down was lifted and we raced back down to the Maasai Mara …
… and what a return it was! I’ve been guiding in the Mara for 20 years and this has to be one of the most spectacular starts to the Kenyan migrations season that I have ever witnessed. We arrived to empty plains and could only see a few herds through binoculars across the border but, within a matter of a couple of days, the crossings started along the Sand River and seemed not to stop for the best part of a week. Each day, thousands and thousands of wildebeest ploughed their way onto the plains of the Mara, like a black mist spreading through the grassland.
The plains of the Mara have been virtually deserted of humans for much of 2020, thanks to coronavirus. The sudden cessation of tourists out game driving, coupled with a healthy rainy season means that tracks have grown over, river crossing points have been washed out and there’s an overall sense that the ecosystem has returned to wilderness. We could see it in the way animals reacted to our presence, one of the few vehicles they would have seen for some time – young elephants hid closer to their mothers, lions peered out from deep in the bushes and giraffe surveyed us from further afield than normal. Only the wildebeest kept on moving as if all was normal, but their entire lives are spent migrating into uncharted territory so they carried on just following the one in front, as they have all their lives.
Despite the massive numbers of gnus which dominated everything, one of our most unique sightings was of 3 black rhino, which had been disturbed from their mid-afternoon slumber in a thicket by a noisy migrating herd – they dashed out onto the open plains for a few minutes before calming down and slowly drifting back to cover. It’s rare to see rhino in the Mara and to find 3 in one place is very special indeed.
Our Luxury Mobile Camp, set up on the banks of the Mara River, was the perfect base to take in all of this. It took only a few minutes each day to be at the Sand River, well ahead of the few other visitors from Nairobi who had also made the journey down here and, for most of our days, we rarely saw more than a handful of other cars. The wildebeest have now started to turn towards the Mara River itself, where crocodiles and other dangers await the herds and we’ll be in the midst of the action through the coming weeks.
Although I write this from Nairobi, we’re already planning our return to the Mara next week. Even though there’s only be a short gap between our visits, the locations and sizes of herds will have changed, long grass will be trampled and grazed and predators will move to the best hunting locations. The pandemic of 2020 has given our family a unique opportunity to spend much more time than normal as a family in the midst of the this amazing ecosystem and is one we’re embracing whole heartedly. We only wish you could all be here to share it with us …
Joe, Gillian & Kian