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Survival and Sacrifice: A Serengeti Story

Posted on 11/14/2017 12:00:00 AM in Traveler Insights

During their annual migration, the sheer volume of wildebeest might ensure that the herd as a whole will survive—but many individuals are lost along the way.

By Wanda L., 8-time traveler and 5-time Vacation Ambassador from Okatie, SC

Two Less

Remember the quintessential bar room song?

“Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall,

Ninety-nine bottles of beer.

Take one down, pass it around,

Ninety-eight bottles of beer on the wall.”

My brother and I loved this silly ditty. Before the era of iPads, we sang it for entertainment in the car as we drove toward a family vacation site, windows rolled down, wind rushing in our faces. Or we’d sing it at home when we were bored or… simply to irritate our parents. All ninety-nine rounds of it.

Now, I am intrigued by a new version of this song resulting from a recent trip.

One million wildebeest in a line,

One million beest in a line.

Lion takes one down, shakes it around,

One less wildebeest in the line.

I wasn’t riding in our family car when these words rumbled into my mind, but in a safari vehicle with a pop-up top. The wind in my face wasn’t from forward motion since our vehicle barely crept among the animals, but from a slight breeze common to the Serengeti. This was not the entertainment provided by the mind-numbing song preceding the inevitable question, “Are we there yet?” This was a spectacle only God could provide.

The new version came to mind as I viewed the scene around me. Engulfed in a sea of wildebeest and zebras, but mostly wildebeest, on the Serengeti Plain in Tanzania, it was a sight surreal in breadth and magnitude. Would one less wildebeest even be noticed?

The wildebeest migration is a showpiece of nature occurring year round except in November and December. In the Serengeti Preserve, hundreds of thousands of wildebeest—driven by their need for water—move from the central Serengeti ever northward to the Mara River. Zebras, in much smaller numbers, accompany them. The two live in symbiosis: the zebras possessing excellent eyesight and memory especially for the migration route; the wildebeest contributing an acute ability to smell rain and water.

A choreographed chaos emerges from what initially appears to be a frenzied rush. Both wildebeest and zebras sprint for the water, but typically one yields to the other, and each group rotates in turn. Impatient intruders may receive swift kicks to the face as they try to encroach, but, in general, the system works although it is not orderly and precise. In a milling, shifting pattern like sand in a sand puzzle, all approach the water source and are temporarily satisfied.

Tension beyond craving water exists at the waterhole however. Even as their thirst is satiated, the animals remain alert. Predators lurk.

A short distance from the milling sea of wildebeest and zebras, a lioness devours her kill. Yanking and ripping tissue, the lioness eviscerates the wildebeest, the bloated stomach tossed aside. Raising her head from the kill, the lioness with beautiful eyes and bloody muzzle peers over the carcass seemingly oblivious to our voyeuristic intrusion. We stare in fascination as nature unfolds before us.

Another wildebeest who met a different fate is part of the Tanzanian landscape, too. Far from the frenzy of the migration, our safari voyager entered the Ngorongoro Caldera. The caldera, the largest in the world, is a self-contained eco system. A palpable peace permeates the caldera because here, food is plentiful, water is available, and grasses are low making predators easy to sight.

As we descended the steep grade into the valley of the caldera, a lone wildebeest lay beside the road. Miscalculating, she had jumped from a ledge above breaking all four legs. On her belly, legs extended in distorted positions, head up and alert, the injured wildebeest, pregnant and unable to rise and walk, watched us making no cry of pain. Park rangers would move the unfortunate wildebeest to the floor of the caldera and let nature take its course. Sadly, we drove on.

Captivated by the experiences of the morning, a new version of the beer song returned to my mind:

Who is the Master behind the plan,

The Master behind the plan?

It is none other than God himself.

The Master behind the plan.

Find your own inspiration amidst the cycle of life and death in Africa during Safari Serengeti: Tanzania Lodge & Tented Safari.

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