And a Cast of Thousands

Jun 1, 2001
Outside Magazine

Wildebeasts and Zebras
When it comes to large, charismatic animals on the go, nothing compares to East Africa's Serengeti. Each year more than a million wildebeests and up to 300,000 zebras, marching nose-to-tail in lines that extend as far as the eye can see, inscribe a counterclockwise loop across the savanna from Tanzania's Ngorongoro Crater to Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve. Visitors who watch this spectacle can expect all the high drama and unhinged theatrics of a Puccini opera. Among the highlights: the height of the wildebeests' calving season, a three-week window in January or February in which 90 percent of the pregnant cows give birth, enacting the miracle of life while laying out a Vegas-style buffet for hordes of ravenous hyenas and lions; and the crossings of rivers like the Mara and the Grumeti, when wildebeests and zebras play Russian roulette by swimming through croc-infested waters. The exodus north typically begins in April; in October—or thereabouts—the animals turn themselves around and retrace their steps.

See for Yourself: Go on an outfitted Kenyan safari in July, August, or September, or a Tanzanian safari from December through March. Land Rover­sed trips allow you to get within 15 feet of the animals safely. A safari with mobile tented camps provides the most flexibility. Contact Mountain Travel­ek (888-687-6235; www.mtsobek .com); Geographic Expeditions (800-777-8183;; Abercrombie & Kent (800-323-7308;; or The Africa Adventure Company (800-882-9453;
Magellanic Penguins
For four months of the year, the beaches of Punta Tombo, 930 miles south of Buenos Aires, lie undisturbed beneath the Argentine sun. Then come the penguins—approximately 500,000 of them, the largest gathering of Magellanic penguins in the world. Moving like a wave of hydrodynamic perfection, alone or in groups of 30 to 40, they've traveled up to 2,000 miles from feeding grounds as far north as Rio de Janeiro to find new supplies of anchovies, squid, and crustaceans. Braying like mules, they waddle ashore beginning in September, ready to court, mate, and molt. At first glance the penguins look like identical, animated lawn ornaments. But walk the gravel paths of the 600-acre Punta Tombo Wildlife Reserve and you'll see that each bird has its own unique markings and mannerisms. Within weeks, they shed their worn-out feathers, covering the coastline with snowy down, and replace them with new watertight layers. The birds are donning fresh swimsuits for their return trip north in December, when they'll leave the pingüera in peace.

See for Yourself: Argentina-based tour operator Causana Viajes (011-54-2965-455044;, founded by a former ranger at the rookery, offers three-day wildlife-watching trips to Punta Tombo and nearby Peninsula Valdés (from $340 per person, including hotel accommodations and transportation from Puerto Madryn, 110 miles north of Punta Tombo). It's also easy to visit Punta Tombo on your own; the reserve is 60 miles south of the international airport in Trelew.