Meet Mr. Migration

Allen Bechky, 54, spent 20 years running Mountain Travel­Sobek's Africa department, wrote two definitive books on adventuring in Africa, and now guides custom animal-watching tours all over the world. We chased him down at his home near Berkeley.

Your success as a guide depends on your sense of where the animals are migrating and when. How do you make these calls?
The Serengeti is such a big place--you're looking at a good 5,000 square miles of plains. I'd say the trick is to play it somewhat by ear: Schedule camps in several different locales, and have the mobility and the will to go exploring far afield.

Have you ever struck out completely?
No. I think if you have the right spirit, it's impossible to strike out. Last year I did a safari in the beginning of May, and there was hardly a wildebeest to be seen. But we found a group of male cheetahs, four brothers. They jumped on the hood of my vehicle to use it as a vantage point, much as they would a termite mound. Eventually, this little baby wildebeest that had lost its mother ran toward us, bleating. The thing came within a hundred feet and these cheetahs nailed it, right there in front of us.
Any particularly memorable moments?
The first time I went to the Serengeti, I rented a VW Bug with a couple of friends. We had no idea where the hell we were going. We were driving around the plains in the dark and literally drove right through the middle of the migration. All we saw were thousands of eyes. Disembodied eyes, gleaming in the headlights. It was overwhelming.

How long do you see yourself doing this?
Probably forever. It's quite moving when there are animals in every direction as far as the eye can see. It's a vision of ages past that never ceases to stir me.

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