Travel Thru Tanzania: Epic Crossings

Well, where do I begin to describe the realization of a life long dream. You see as a child reading National Geographic magazines and watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom with Marlin Perkins, Jim Fowler and Peter Gros fueled my desire to go to Africa. I guess I’m dating myself by mentioning these shows. Man to this day I’m still an Animal Planet and Discovery Channel viewer! Nuttin better than watching a new episode; seeing a different part of the planet and planning a photography trip!

So perhaps one of my biggest “burns” has always been the “Wildebeest Migration and Crossings”. Seeing a crossing and photographing it was top shelf on my list.

Before we launch into this episode of “Epic Crossings” lets discuss the migration of the wildebeest.

Natural phenomena occur all over the world but few can compete with the annual Masai Mara/Serengeti wildebeest migration. The numbers alone are hard to believe: up to two million animals – wildebeest as well as zebra and gazelles – move clockwise around this enormous ecosystem. Driven by ancient instincts to find fresh grazing and water. It’s drama on a truly epic scale. The migrating herds undergo many challenges and hardships as they move from region to region and are constantly under attack from predators, none more so than from Africa’s big cats and the notoriously huge crocodiles that lie in wait at various river crossing points.

We were able to witness two crossings per day, not to mention one day with three crossings. Picture thousands of wildebeest, zebra and other grazers massing up at various river point crossings. Who knows how the lead wildebeest picks the crossing location? One thing is certain though. It’s a frantic stampede to the water edges and crossing. Despite rapid river currents and huge crocodiles waiting at the shores and water’s edge they still take the plunge! Total mayhem folks!! I actually observed a dust cloud on the horizon and watched it grow in size and shape. My guide Benedict’s smile grew bigger and bigger as well. We watched this gigantic herd of thousands approach the cliffs overlooking the river. As the heard approached the cliff they slammed on the brakes as they peered over the edge. Seems they had picked the wrong point as they just stood there pacing back and forth. Occasionally the leader of the herd would probe a possible path to the river but would stop short. Soon several of the wildebeest in the middle of the pack started pushing forward. All of a sudden all bedlam broke loose. Seemed like panic, along with a frantic need to cross the river in pursuit of the new fresh green grass, had jump-started the show!  It was easily 10 plus feet down to the next level along the river bank.

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This was the beginning of an epic crossing. Unfortunately no photographer can capture this entire 180 degree event! I realize that this image is just one moment in time. Imagine to the left a line that was triple deep in columns of thousands of stampeding wildebeests. Can you see the depth of this herd? Utterly crazy!! Canon’s 1DX Mark II and 100-400mmII kept up nicely as they dove off the top level. Shocking to see wildebeests literally crashing down on each other. Trampling and crushing the youngsters and less fortunate adults that broke limbs in the jump. We watched wildebeests take a nose dive along with total face plants. Most of stunned and injured would roll off into the water and drown or be pulled under by waiting crocs just out of the image. Stay tuned for some croc action shots in another episode.

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Canon’s 1DX Mark II and 100-400mmII easily tracks and stays with the jumping wildebeest at 16 frames per second. A very impressive action camera! If action, motion with erratic movements is your mission, then this is the camera body for you! Only wish I had more hands to shoot many different focal lengths simultaneously. I can’t wait to take the new FujiFilm XT-2 on my next Tanzania adventure.  A word to the wise.. mirrorless camera rock!

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It didn’t take us long to spot the carnage and the fatalities of a crossing. Here a mother and her calf have been trampled badly. Look closely as you see a baby under the mother,as well as another baby practically covered in mud. So many bodies were floating in the river down stream to an area called the “Death Zone”. Here there are hundreds and hundreds of dead decomposing wildebeest that are in various stages of decomposition trapped among the boulders in the river. The area is the hangout for five different species of vultures and Marabou storks. Talk about a gagging stench! Seems like the majority of fatalities are from drownings along with injuries sustained in the stampede.

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Truly a miracle to watch this little guy kicking and gasping for air and life! No quitter here folks! Even mom is encouraged to see her calf, or actually another mother’s calf struggling to get up. There’s hope folks!

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Amazing resilience!  Little fellow stood up and followed his mother out of this muddy grave! What a lucky guy!  You could hear a roar of applause as the youngster made his way up the slippery bank! Seems the safari vehicle to my left was rooting for the little fellow.

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Thought I would share another crossing on same morning from a different crossing point. Every crossing was different! Never get tired of watching them. Remember that was the reason for my trip! Can you Say Epic?

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A close up of the frantic swim in monochrome. “Follow me boys!”

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I would be stretching the truth to imply that I just replicated a crossing for you! No way baby! You would have to be there in person to see the dust and dirt flying! The sounds of stampeding hooves, the snorts and the crazy sounds they made echo’d  during the crossing.

Truly an epic event to witness.

Perhaps a small video clip can better sum it up!  Canon’s 1DX Mark II and 100-400mmII video. I must confess I’m not a videographer. I’m currently researching editing software. If any of the readers would like to chime in the comment section please feel free to share your favorite video editing software.

Bedford fans thank you for stopping in and visiting! See ya on the next episode…plenty more to come.

I’d like to thank Bedford Camera & Video for hosting this blog.

Bedford Camera & Video your “One-Stop Shop” for all of your photography needs!

Don Hamilton Jr.

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