Wildebeests crossing the Mara River [Photo: Courtesy]

More than 300 wildebeests drowned at the weekend following a stampede as the animals were crossing the Mara River in the Mara Game reserve, reports indicate. Although this is part of the wildebeest migration thrill, the Sunday incident was unique as it witnessed one of the largest single wildebeest deaths in recent history.

Tourists watched in awe as hundreds of the animals died in the crocodile-infected waters of the Mara. But according to Maasai Mara chief warden James Sindiyo, stampede and drowning is part of the migration phenomenon. In the Great Wildebeest Migration, millions of wildebeests dot East Africa’s renowned plains in one of the most thrilling spectacles

“During the migration, many wildebeests die from stampede, drowning and even being preyed on. It is a game of the jungle and nature’s at its best. Drowning depends on the route the wildebeests take and the volume of water in the river. The more perilous and deep the route they choose, the more wildebeests are likely to die,” Mr Sindiyo said.

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In the many deaths, the carcasses are fed on by fish, crocodiles, and vultures, among others. “These carcasses can sometimes be swept to as far as Lake Victoria,” he added. Kenya Tour Driver Guides Association chairperson Nick Kiritu said perilous routes common to stampedes and drowning are known as filter routes.

“We call them filter routes because it is only the lucky ones that make it... It is part of the game and those that drown automatically do not make it to the next migration. Those that cross over qualify to the next game,” he says.

And while some might successfully cross over, they will be hunted, stalked, and run down by predators. Carcasses are worked on by scavenging vultures. “This is the best time to watch nature unfold right in before your own eyes. That is why wildebeest migration is one of the world’s wonders. It is incredibly magical,” he said.

In the migration, hundreds of thousands of wildebeests alongside zebras follow different routes to the same destination annually in one of the most outstanding natural processions on earth. Between January and February, another interesting phenomenon unfolds: wildebeest cows drop calves in a synchronised birthing that sees some 300,000 to 400,000 calves born. The season, again, provides a feast for predators.

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