marlon du toit, masai mara, migration, wild eye

Trip Report: Great Migration Safari 27 Aug – 3 Sept 2016

Marlon duToit All Authors, Jono, Marlon 1 Comment

After greeting our guests at the airstrip on the vast open plains of the Mara, we immediately set off in the direction of the river, not too far off. Our camp was only 25 minutes away from the airstrip, but just before the arrival of our guests we spotted some wildebeests gathering at the edge of the Mara River and simply had to go show our new guests.

Right there and then they got to witness their very first wildebeest crossing. What a way to start such an incredible safari experience, all even before arriving at the camp itself.

marlon du toit, masai mara, migration, wild eye

On top of that a crocodile lunged out of the water at close range, and tried to grab hold of a passing wildebeest. He never had any success on this attempt, but our guests were completely jaw-dropped.

THAT is how we welcome our guests in the Mara, Wild Eye style 😉

There’s a massive emphasis on the migration and the wildebeests crossing the Mara River. This is completely understandable. It certainly ranks up there as one of nature’s most spectacular displays. Very few other events in nature can compare to this.

We typically spend the first 2 or 3 days of the 7-day safari looking for large herds attempting to cross the river. This ensures the guests get to satisfy their appetite for crossings, and allows us the opportunity to later explore more of the Mara, showcasing it’s full beauty to our guests.

Yes, there’s more to the Masai Mara than gnu’s & crocodiles 😉

But yes, the crossings are incredibly dramatic and we were treated to some massive ones.

One that comes to mind happened as follows…

marlon du toit, masai mara, migration, wild eye

A massive mixed herd ran to the edge of the water. There were many wildebeest as well as a large herd of Topi. They were filling the island at rapid pace and the pressure was mounting from the back. Just look at the numbers piling in from behind!

A crossing was no doubt on the cards here.

marlon du toit, masai mara, migration, wild eye

As herds started gathering on the opposite bank, a single lone topi rushed forward and into the murky waters of the Mara River.

Then, all chaos broke lose and the herds started rushing through! The sound of hundreds of thundering hooves hitting the water at the same was incredible, something I tried to capture in video, to be seen below.

marlon du toit, masai mara, migration, wild eye

All it took was that single confident, brave or stupid Topi. Whichever one you may think he was.

Seeing sights like this is simply incredible! It’s near impossible to sum it up in writing.

Have a look at the video highlights of some of the crossings we got to witness below. It might give you an idea of just how awesome this experience is.

Getting into the water is only a small portion of the challenges the animals face when needing to cross the river. Getting out on the other side presents a whole new card of challenges.

In these big crossings there’s hundreds of wildebeest in the water at the same time, and the exit points are often cramped. As you can see in that video footage, this causes congestion and absolute chaos! Many young, old or injured wildebeest will drown in an attempt to heave themselves up onto the jagged rocks. They tire from the stress & from the swim, and many just can’t manage to get out.

Some simply collapse after getting up and out, exhausted from the crossing.

What to us seems like a mere swim across the river, involves far more than we could ever imagine!

marlon du toit, masai mara, migration, wild eye

If the action packed crossings are all you want to see when visiting the Mara, perfectly fine! That said, once we moved away from the River and started exploring different regions our guests got to see the bigger picture!

This is where the love affair with this stunning destination takes place.

marlon du toit, masai mara, migration, wild eye

Many of the resident animals avoid the herds and the commotion. It’s understandable. They spend all their time here, and for 3 months of the year their calm & quiet lives are completely disrupted and up-ended.

There’s a good enough diversity within the Mara to support a great selection of animals. Many people wrongly think that the Mara consists of purely grassland.

There’s mountainous regions, stunning woodland, shrubland, kopjes, rivers & drainages and yes, plenty of open grasslands too.

marlon du toit, masai mara, migration, wild eye

Each section offers a unique experience and exposure to species not often found in other regions of the reserve.

On the first afternoon and after spending time at a crossing point, we spent time looking for black rhino. Typically, they enjoy the wooded regions as pictured above. This makes them hard to find as they are not easily spotted, and there’s no road network running through the actual woodland. Our best bet was to work around the edges of the woodland.

Our effort paid off beautifully!

marlon du toit, masai mara, migration, wild eye

A stunning male black rhino appeared from the edge of the thicket, and walked into the open. They often leave the woodland in the evening to browse on the shrubs found in the surrounding grasslands. It was the perfect setting and the soft light simply added to the scene!

Note that the end of the horn is missing. As an anti-poaching method, national parks will trip the horns down. It’s not always nice to see but it’s a big part of 21st century conservation, and has proved rather effective! He is alive and well protected, I can assure you!

Another massive facet of the Mara ecosystem are the predators.

Where there’s a large food source, the predators will follow. They did not disappoint on this safari!

marlon du toit, masai mara, migration, wild eye

marlon du toit, masai mara, migration, wild eye

The resident lion prides welcome the herds and are a constant threat to their general well-being. This is especially evident around drinking points.

Pictured above, a lioness and her pride often stalk out this drinking spot. The fact that the animals need to move down below the edge of the river bank puts them at risk. They lose sight of what’s happening above them, and the lions use this to their advantage and will often kill multiple times a day.

marlon du toit, masai mara, migration, wild eye

There’s very few places where herds can go to escape the Mara’s predators.

There’s always someone watching, plotting. They are ever opportunistic here and will hunt just about any time of the day, full belly or not!

It’s a super exciting experience for guests because so few parks allow you to see lions active and hunting during daylight hours.

The terrain they find themselves within are also ideal settings for photography. There’s seldom excessive vegetation in the frame, and allows you to capture images well-worthy of publication.

marlon du toit, masai mara, migration, wild eye

marlon du toit, masai mara, migration, wild eye

Apart from the Serengeti, there’s few destinations that consistently offer you these kind of photographic opportunities. It’s magnificent!

Seeing the Masai Mara from the air is also a must-do experience. If you are working on some bucket-list experiences, this should rank towards the top of it. It’s something you’ll not easily forget!

marlon du toit, masai mara, migration, wild eye

marlon du toit, masai mara, migration, wild eye

marlon du toit, masai mara, migration, wild eye

Seeing the Mara from up above gives you a brand new perspective of the land.

It also puts into perspective just how incredible large the region is!

marlon du toit, masai mara, migration, wild eye

You will be exposed to new & unique photographic opportunities. The image captured above must be one of my favorite images from my Mara safaris. It’s just so different and perfectly shows off the Mara during that very time of year.

It had not rained for some time and the small pans were drying up at rapid pace. The herds started scattering a little and they had to cover large distances in order to drink & feed. The story above is not only unique & accurate, but also totally impossible had I not been in the balloon and witnessing it from the air.

Without doubt one of the highlights of this particular balloon flight was seeing a clan of hyena hunting a herd of wildebeest and in particular, a young calf.
Hyenas are often written off as lowly scavengers. It’s completely the opposite. They have incredible stamina and are able to run prey down over vast distances!

We never got to see the end of the hunt, but I am pretty sure they were successful.

marlon du toit, masai mara, migration, wild eyemarlon du toit, masai mara, migration, wild eye

The experience ends with a champagne breakfast in the most striking of locations. It’s so fitting and an experience we encourage all our guests to partake in.

Midway through the safari we got to enjoy some more spectacular crossings. The crossing points around the camp have extremely high walls and offer incredibly dramatic crossings. The wildebeest need to scale down the high embankments and this kicks up a huge amount of dust. It adds beautifully to the images!

marlon du toit, masai mara, migration, wild eye

marlon du toit, masai mara, migration, wild eye

As could be expected, crocodiles are an ever-present threat whenever wildebeest, topi or gazelle enter the river. These age-old predators are smart and have developed the perfect hunting techniques. Equipped with such wisdom, it’s no surprise that they are able to simply pick off wildebeest at will whenever they enter the river.

There’s hardly any skill required here and they gorge themselves during the migration season!

The crocodiles of the Mara River are unlike any other on the African continent! They are simply relentless, never letting up and ever present to cause carnage within the herds crossing the river.

They don’t only feed whenever they are hungry either. They’ll often cache kills and return to the crossing to kill again. It’s crazy, a sight to behold!

marlon du toit, masai mara, migration, wild eye

It’s their sheer size that’s so daunting! I can’t imagine larger crocodiles anywhere else in Africa. They are monsters, real life dinosaurs!

Dare I say there are individuals within the Mara River that are even larger than the Saltwater Crocodiles from Australia?

Have a look at the picture above. This crocodile swallowed an entire gazelle.


Legs, head, the lot! That’s unbelievable!

It did not come easy as this particular crocodile was “harassed” by a very curious hippo. Have a look at the video below that I captured of the very interesting behaviour.

Hippo’s are extremely inquisitive, and especially at this sub-adult age. I have never seen this kind of behaviour before and found it fascinating! This hippo obviously felt far less threatened by the massive crocodile than anyone else watching!

You have to wonder what was going through the hippo’s head as he smelt and eventually nibbled the giant croc!

The Masai Mara is a safari experience everyone should come and see for themselves! I try as best to capture the experience as accurately and true as possible, and I always fall short! If you think these images & videos are fantastic, wait till you see it in real life!

marlon du toit, masai mara, migration, wild eye

marlon du toit, masai mara, migration, wild eye

There’s so much more to the Mara than the crossings! There’s so much beauty here to explore.

This is what we at Wild Eye have become known for, and it is evident in the images that our guests capture, and the stories that they tell.

Thanks for reading along!

Till next time,

About the Author

Marlon duToit

Passion, enthusiasm and an unquenchable thirst to explore and introduce you to our natural world’s wildlife perfectly sums up my ambitions. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. Through my African adventures I kept my photographic passion alive. Behind a camera aimed at a lion or a leopard is where I am most at home, my heart skipping a beat at the mere thought of it. My intention has never been solely for recognition but for the plight of what’s left of our natural recourses. Using my love and understanding of wildlife I am able to convey to the viewer more than an image or a fleeting moment. I aim to tell a story, to bring that moment alive to you and to capture your heart through it.

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