Great Migration Camps wildebeest researcher, Carel Verhoef, has witnessed hundreds of river crossings, and explains what happens in the build up to a river crossing and how best to experience the “Greatest Show on Earth”.

Carel has an incredible strike rate getting his clients, not just to the wildebeest migration, but to witness river crossing(s)! Having studied and followed the great wildebeest migration for more than 15 years, he shares his Top 5 Tips for maximising your opportunities for a wildebeest river crossings. Read to the end for his Bonus Tip.

Top 5 Tips to Experience a River Crossing

River Crossing Tip 1: You need to get to the Mara River at the right time

When planning your “river crossing safari”, it’s important to deal with a knowledgeable company and consultant who have the knowledge to get you to the right place. Great Migration Camps provides Migration Updates on our Facebook page. GMC is in the privileged position of being able to move camp as the wildebeest move, ensuring we have the latest migration news and updates. Guides, pilots, managers, lodges, camps and colleagues all supply news and updates on the movement and location of the wildebeest.  Ask GMC to help with your safari plans and timings.

River Crossing Tip 2: Buy yourself as much time as you can on the river itself

If you are really want to see a river crossing, then buy as many nights as close to the river as you can. The decision of a herd to cross the river is not taken lightly and they need to build up numbers and energy to do the crossing. It can take days for the right conditions, often leaving visitors frustrated at the anticipated event that doesn’t materialise. Wildlife takes time, you have to be in it to see it and experience it – river crossings are no different! The longer you have the better your chances. (See our packages)

The good news is that the area around the Mara River (on both the Serengeti and Masai Mara sides), has plenty of resident plains game and a huge quantity of big cats. This gives you the opportunity for a classic safari to view general game that could include lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, cheetah, hyena, jackal and much much more.

River Crossing Tip 3:  Wait for the energy to build up

The higher the water level in the Mara River, the more difficult it is to cross. The jumps are intimidating and this means that the wildebeest and zebra need to build up enough energy before they leap into the crocodile infested waters. Give yourself a few days for the wildebeest numbers to build up on the river itself and do some great game viewing or bird watching while the herds gather. The potential for a crossing is greater if there are wildebeest on both sides of the river. You will immediately realise that there might be enough energy if you hear the wildebeest calls becoming louder and more frequent. The noise can be like a giant humming.

River Crossing Tip 4: Position yourself away from the river

Don’t sit too close to the river bank – this might block the herds without your knowledge. Any barrier or obstruction can prevent the wildebeest from crossing the river. Position yourself some distance away from the riverbank, preferably slightly obscured so that you can allow the wildebeest herds to move unobstructed to the water’s edge or choose their crossing point. This way you won’t interfere. Don’t worry if you don’t have a perfect view at this stage – keep your eyes peeled for the dust as the crossing starts and the noise intensity increases. Then and only then should you move closer. Once the crossing has started it will not stop because so much energy has been created. You will easily get within a few hundred meters from the crossing herds. Moving to the river too quickly can prevent a crossing and leave you with a few days more to wait.

River Crossing Tip 5:  Stay Observant

It is surprisingly easy to get stuck waiting for one herd of wildebeest to cross – especially if there are good herd numbers arriving at the river. Make sure you look up and downstream from your waiting position for other possible crossings that could be imminent. Stay observant and alert to all the build-ups on the river bank. Notice weather patterns and the behaviour of other animals. Leopards have been known to walk behind waiting safari vehicles with not a single client seeing the magical creature taking a stroll right behind them – all eyes focused on the river.

Hot Tip

During a river crossing, stop to soak up the atmosphere – it is an incredible experience. Don’t just stare through your view-finder taking pictures. Feel the energy before, during and after the crossing; let the sounds echo through you as the visual show unfolds. When you do take pictures, make sure you don’t over zoom, you need the wider angle to capture the magnitude of what is happening.

BONUS TIP:  Both Sides of the Mara River

Don’t let an international border stop you from seeing a river crossing. If you are really serious about seeing a river crossing then give yourself the best possible chance by going to both the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and the Masai Mara in Kenya. If you are travelling during July and August visit the Serengeti first followed by the Masai Mara.  During September and October, visit the Masai Mara first and finish your stay in Tanzania the Serengeti. This drastically increases your chances of seeing the wildebeest herds cross the river.

Map of the Mara River Basin. Source: www.frontiersin.org

How to book

  • Ask us.  We’d love to help you.  The earlier you enquire, the less chance to be disappointed, especially during peak periods when other services can also be fully booked.
  • We can assist with tours before or after your safari, additional accommodation in town – as well as flights or transport in and out of the National Park.
  • We recommend 5- 10 days for your migration safari, especially during Crossing season.
  • Email your inquiry to info@greatmigrationcamps.com. Kindly provide your name, country, number of people travelling and preferred dates and duration.  Children of all ages are welcome.

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