10,000 Wildebeest Drown in Migration "Pileup"

Blake de Pastino
National Geographic News
October 1, 2007

In a bizarre mishap that conservationists describe as "heartbreaking," an estimated 10,000 wildebeest have drowned while attempting to cross Kenya's Mara River during an annual migration.

The deaths, which occurred over the course of several days last week, are said to account for about one percent of the total species population.

The drownings created a grotesque wildlife pileup, after part of the migrating herd tried to ford the Mara at "a particularly treacherous crossing point," according to Terilyn Lemaire, a conservation worker with the Mara Conservancy who witnessed the incident. (See a photo gallery of the mass drowning.)

The first animals into the river failed to cross and drowned, while others continued to stampede into the water behind them, Lemaire told National Geographic News by email.

"Once they jumped into the water, they were unable to climb up either embankment onto land and, as a result, got swept up by the current and drowned," she said.

Some 2,000 wildebeest drowned at the crossing in a single afternoon, Lemaire estimated.

"There was no unusual flooding at the time, and there seems to be no extraneous circumstances to these deaths," she said.

"The wildebeest merely chose a crossing point that was too steep."

Drowning deaths are not uncommon during the migration, Lemaire added, but her organization has never witnessed fatalities on this scale.

"It is customary every year for the wildebeest to pick a particularly treacherous crossing point and for there to be a significant die-off," she said, "but the number of deaths during these crossings almost never exceeds one thousand."

Fatal Migration

More than a million wildebeest undertake an epic migration every year in late summer, leaving their calving grounds in the Serengeti Plain of Tanzania to seek greener pastures in Kenya to the north.

Continued on Next Page >>


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