We recently published 5 years of research on wildebeest mass drownings in the Mara River. We plan to continue studying this phenomenon for the foreseeable future, both to document the occurrence and size of the drownings and to continue understanding their influence on the river ecosystem. On July 19, 500 wildebeest were crossing the Mara River near the lower bridge, and 150 drowned. This is a relatively small drowning compared to some others we have seen and compared to the annual mean of 6,250 we have documented over the years.
Articles from Field Dispatches
We’re heading into the dry season in the Mara, which generally runs from January until early-mid March when the long rains come. Geemi just sent us some pictures of the Mara River, showing how low the river is. You can actually see the river level on the real-time river gauge on the top right of our blog (under Mara River Water Level). Chris built this river gauge using low-cost Arduino sensors, and it uploads real-time data on the river every 15 minutes.
It’s always bittersweet leaving the Mara. This place is our second home, and we have a beautiful camp, good friends and an amazing river we hate to leave behind. On the other hand, after several months of no running water, limited solar power, and the same 4 outfits, you do start to long for modern conveniences. I usually crave salad, hot showers, a nice cappuccino, and a leisurely morning spent on my computer with the screen at full brightness.
It’s really important for our research to be able to measure water quality in the river on a continual basis over long periods of time. To do this, we have some pretty amazing water quality sensors made by Eureka, that can measure lots of different water quality variables and store the data for weeks or months at a time. We have had these sondes for 6 years, and we have put them into some of the most challenging conditions I can imagine, and they just keep plugging along.
Hippos and wildebeest load a lot of nutrients into the Mara River… like, a lot. All of those nutrients should fertilize the river and produce a lot of algae. It’s what the textbooks say should happen, and it’s what research in other rivers show should happen. We see it happen in some portions of the river where there are only moderate levels of hippo inputs. However, it is not what happens where the hippo and wildebeest inputs are highest. Why not? I don’t know.
One of the great traditions in East Africa is the sundowner, where you head out into the savanna, armed with a box of wine or a cold Tusker and some cheese and crackers if you’re lucky, and watch the sunset. It’s hard to describe the splendor of this moment, with the grassland turning golden in the last moments of light; the streaks of red, purple and gold reflecting across the wide open sky; the silhouette of elephants in the distance. It seemed the perfect way to send Ella off after a great and successful summer of field research.