The Great Migration

When folks describe the great migration in East Africa as one of the natural wonders of the world….they’re not wrong! It’s an ever-changing, ever-evolving twelve month cycle in which several million Wildebeest, Zebras and various other grazers constantly move to pursue the area’s rainy cycles and subsequent greenest grasses. In their migratory path, the animals traverse from the Tanzanian southern Serengeti plains in the early part of the calendar year northward into Kenya’s Masai Mara Reserve by late summer. After spending just a few months in the Masai Mara, they return southward across the Kenya/Tanzania border, arriving back in the southern Serengeti by the end of the year, having completed their 1200 mile journey across East Africa.

Their Jan-March stay in the southern Serengeti is the Wildebeest’s calving season when experts estimate 500,000 calves are born each year. After a few months, the mothers then launch their newborns onto their annual migratory journey. It’s a perilous time for the newborns as predators are anxiously awaiting an easy meal and the herds aren’t always protective of their youngsters.

Although one can visit Tanzania and view the Great Migration at any time of the year, a substantial portion of visitors want to view the animals as they cross the Mara River on their way to and from Kenya which usually occurs in the late summer. The crossings are a life and death spectacle in which life can hang by a thread and a successful crossing can be torpedoed by high water and a fast current, by salivating Nile Crocodiles, by being too old, or by being too young.

It Begins

No two crossings are the same…..sometimes a few hundred animals….sometimes many thousands. Sometimes animals arrive at the river and jump right in. Other times, they may wait hours or days to cross. As animals arrive at the river the herd grows larger and moves about with no obvious plan or direction, And then for no apparent reason, a single animal jumps into the river and is instantly followed by the entire herd.

Taking the First Leap

Once the crossing begins, chaos ensues. Animals are swept downstream, young ones are separated from the herd, animals sense the crocodiles and try to return to the river bank, animals jump on top of each other and struggle to keep afloat. Most make it across but some do not.

The scene is captivating and heartbreaking at the same time. One marvels at this essential act of the natural world where life and death come together as a one act play and the strongest survive. But your heart aches for the young ones who are not strong or wily enough to conquer the current or the elderly ones who no longer have the required strength or energy.

Taking the Plunge
The Rush is on!

And waiting for them are these mammoth Nile Crocodiles, the largest of which can grow to be 20 ft long and weigh as much as 2000 lbs.

Waiting in the River

As a photographer, I try to capture the many small extraordinary moments within the entire tableau that crystallize the effort and struggle of the participants.

The Struggle
Jumping to Safety
Conquering the Mara River
Going over the Top

The Great Migration is an annual “cycle of life” event in which an estimated 500,000 animals are born and 250,000 animals perish from a combination of thirst, hunger, exhaustion, or predation. It’s a Wagnerian opera on hooves and a spectacle in the truest sense of the word. If given an opportunity to witness it, don’t pass it up!

Thank you for reading my blog post and feel free to offer any commentary on the bottom of the page. Also, if you enjoyed the post and want to view future blog posts from me please subscribe buy clicking on the “Subscribe” button below.

Frank Binder

During my recent photographic journey to Ethiopia (with intrepid African Photographer Piper McKay), our small band of photographers climbed into Simien National Park which contains Ethiopia’s highest peak, Ras Dejen at 15,000 ft. Over millions of years the area’s plateaus have eroded to form precipitous cliffs and deep gorges of exceptional natural beauty. While we appreciated the spectacular surroundings, we were there to photograph some of the park’s most famous residents, Gelada baboons. And I couldn’t have been more excited….after all how often do you see Italian ice cream loving baboons?

Gelada Male

The identifying mark of these wonderful animals is a red heart on their chests which cause some to call them “bleeding heart monkeys”. They are actually monkeys in genus…the last surviving branch of the Gelada ancestral tree.








Geladas spend much of their morning grooming each other to make sure that they are looking good as they venture out onto the grasslands to feed. Here a female grooms a sister Gelada as a little one is sheltered.

Being Groomed

Gelada are herbivores but have very large predator like teeth and can look fierce when they draw back their lips and show off their bicuspids.

Just back from getting my hair done!


We saw several large troupes of Geladas each day with each group being at least one hundred animals. To protect themselves from predators, Geladas spend their nights perched on steep cliffsides and emerge at dawn each morning as they make their way up and over cliff rims to spend the day socializing and feeding.

Each troupe featured large numbers of youngsters from newborns to teenage equivalents. The babies often travel on Mom’s back and resemble jockies riding in a race.




Hitching a Ride
Hitching a Ride

If you remain still and unthreatening the Geladas will become comfortable with your presence. This duo was within 6 ft. as they passed by.

A Family Gelada
A Family Gelada

The troupe would move over large distances during the day in search of pristine grasses. I found a favorite photographic tactic which was to plant myself on the ground in the direction the troupe was heading and wait for them to arrive. Soon I was surrounded by animals who completely ignored me as I furiously snapped my shutter.

I know…I look a little crazy!

Just Sittin

Chillin with Mom
Chillin with Mom

Mothers keep their newborns very close and are wary. I found that if I was quiet and moved slowly I could get quite close to this pair and spent 10-15 minutes photographing them after they came to ignore me.








These two young boys followed us one day in hopes of selling their portrait to us. I couldn’t resist. Those blankets weren’t for show…it was cold at 10,000 ft!

Thank you for reading my latest blog entry. If you thought it was worthy of your time and you hadn’t already done so, please take the opportunity to subscribe by clicking the “Follow” button in the middle of the right side of this page. You will receive an email asking you to confirm your subscription. Also, you can share this blog entry on your Facebook page by clicking the share button below or you can email it to folks by clicking on the “Email” button.


Shrewsbury, MA

%d bloggers like this: