Great Migration - Q&A with Head Guide Abdul Karim

Image for Great Migration - Q&A with Head Guide Abdul Karim

Abdul Karim leads a team of six dedicated Sanctuary Retreats guides in Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve. After working as a naturalist for many years he joined Sanctuary Olonana Camp eleven years ago.

His most memorable safari was when he saw a female hippo saving a drowning baby wildebeest at a river crossing during the migration of 2010. This touching story was featured in media across the world including The Metro newspaper in the UK, showing that Olonana Camp is perfectly located to catch the drama of the migration.

We had a chat with Abdul this week for an update on the migration and here is what he had to say...

Where is the best location in the Masai Mara to experience the migration?

There are five river crossing points we visit near Sanctuary Olonana Camp and these are the best places to experience the drama of the great migration. Crocodiles and other predators such as lions, leopards and cheetahs also know where to wait and we usually see a kill at the crossings. The nearest crossing is at Kichwa Tembo airstrip, a short drive from our lodge. Our clients who arrived today went straight there as soon as they stepped off the plane from Nairobi!

Do the wildebeest cross the river once or multiple times?

The wildebeest are excellent at knowing where to find food. They can smell the rain from quite a distance and know that where there is rain there will be grass for them to eat. In the Masai Mara it’s such a large area that it usually rains in one part and not in another and the wildebeest often have to cross the treacherous Mara River multiple times during the migration to get to the pastures.


How is the weather during the migration?

We had the long rains this year from March to June and it’s now what we call the ‘Kenyan winter’ – it’s fresh and chilly in the mornings and evenings. It’s also quite cloudy and we have some showers. There is lots of food for the wildebeest and zebra and that is why they are here at this time. It is an El Niño year and this means the weather is unpredictable and in fact the long rains did come quite late.

Migration Cropped

When is the best time of day to photograph the migration?

The best time is either in the morning before 9am or else in the afternoon after about 4pm. We usually go to the first crossing point and if it’s quiet we will move on to the next one until we find the one with the most activity. It’s possible to take good photographs in the middle of the day but you need to be more of an expert photographer to get the best shots. The light is much better in the morning and evenings.

Migration Cropped

When is the migration in the Masai Mara?

This year we first saw the migration in the Masai Mara on 14 June, when we started to see wildebeest crossing the border from Tanzania and the Serengeti National Park. The crossing point into Kenya is about a half-day from Sanctuary Olonana Camp. Normally the wildebeest head back in late October but can be here until November or even December.

Migration Map Cropped

What do guests like best about the migration?

One of the fun parts is when we hold the bush dinner and the site we use is close to one of the river crossings and we have dinner with a wildebeest soundtrack and we can hear them gurgling and grunting all night. Guests also like to have a picnic close to a crossing so that relax and sit back and enjoy the greatest wildlife show in Africa. Of course, the sundowners at about 6:30pm is everyone’s favourite time on safari, especially during the migration!

Olonana Cropped

What have you noticed about the migration, having experienced it for many years?

It’s funny that there are a couple of bridges that cross the Mara River and the wildebeest never use them! They always choose to take their chances with the crocodiles and the other predators and cross through the waters. It’s just nature and the survival of the fittest. I’ve also noticed that 2016 is a big year for the migration and all the guides have been saying they have never seen so many wildebeest in the Masai Mara.

Olo 011

What other wildlife do you see in the migration?

Apart from wildebeest, zebra also get swept up in all the excitement, as do topi antelope and they all make the river crossings together. It’s quite predictable where the animals will cross and crocodile know where to wait so that they can make their kills. Usually the crocodile scare the wildebeest by attacking them as they cross and the wildebeest back off and rest for a while. Usually they will start up again in the hope that the crocodiles have moved on – but they are usually patiently waiting for their next meal! Of course, we also see many lions, leopards and cheetahs at this time of year.


Abdul Karim - Head Guide - Sanctaury Olonana Camp