At the end of his USIS tour in the Congo, Fred Hunter wangled vacation time to visit game parks in East Africa. Unexpectedly he found himself literally in the midst of the greatest wildlife viewing sight in East Africa: the wildebeest and zebra migration across the Serengeti plains. His report:

Wildebeest in the Serengeti migration (initernet photo)

I drove south out of Nairobi in a rented VW bug. I had seen the flamingoes at Lake Nakuru and was determined to visit other parks I’d read about in Dr. Bernhard Grzimek’s The Serengeti Shall Not Die. I crossed the border from Kenya into Tanzania. I drove through Arusha and beside Lake Manyara where lions lay in the trees, their legs straddling branches as they looked down at me and yawned.

I had no trouble getting lodging at the edge of Ngorongoro Crater. There were only a couple of hotels then and very few visitors. To drive into the crater, however, required hiring a Land Rover and a guide. That cost $30, more than I could afford. But it was clearly folly to stand at the edge of the Crater, yet not go into it. I screwed up my courage and began asking strangers if I could hitch a ride with them into the crater. A couple from Florida were kind enough to take me along.

The immense crater was a perfect zoo. The animals were free in their natural habitat while zoo visitors were caged inside movable viewing stands, the Land Rovers. Thanks to the Hollingsworths’ generosity, I had a splendid day. Moreover, I learned from them that the migration had just begun in the Serengeti. I was uncertain what this meant. But clearly it was important. When the Hollingworths had heard the news – the Serengeti’s chief warden had telephoned it to them in Florida – they had dropped everything and flown immediately to see it. What an extravagant journey in May, 1965!

Coming down off the Ngorongoro Highlands about noon the next day, I drove across the flat, rain-greened plain. Gazelles and ostriches and hidden lions watched me pass. Time after time herds of zebra blocked the dusty track. I had to stop for them.

Off across the plain I watched thousands of animals on the move. Zebras shambled along in striped glory. Wildebeests marched with bobbing heads. They moved in hundreds of single-file lines, the calves trotting that gawky, humorous wildebeest trot to keep up with their mothers.

Later, when the African sky had filled with sunset-reddened clouds, I had to stop again. The animals were paralleling a watercourse and the road crossed their track. They surged over the road in a lowing, ever-onwardly-flowing swarm.

They moved before and behind the car, close enough for me to tug their stringy manes or swat their striped haunches, to smell their wildness and feel the cool currents of air set up by their movement. I tasted their dust and sensed myself adrift on the flood of their sound: the grunting, the swishing, the roar of thousands of hooves crossing a piece of ground.

Inching forward, I got the car through the moving animals. I drove to nearby Seronera Camp at the heart of the Serengeti. I got lodging in a rondavel with earthen walls and a thatched roof, picked up a guide and drove out. The plains were alive with animals, hundreds of thousands of them, all moving northward toward the fresh grass in what is now known as the Mara. I parked the car and sat on top of it, binoculars to my eyes, the waning sun hot on my skin, dust in my nostrils, watching the endless parade.

The animals passed close to Seronera Camp all that night. I watched them the next morning and the next afternoon and heard them again all the following night. They were still passing when I left the next morning to drive back to Ngorongoro. This was the end of my Congo tour for USIS. I went from there to Cannes, France, via Nairobi and took an ocean liner back to the United States.

What was Donanne doing in the late spring of 1965? She was living in a dorm at UCLA, finishing her year-long graduate degree in Library Science. Her father Don Ralston was about to retire from the Foreign Service and follow his daughter’s lead by becoming a librarian (he worked for many years as the deputy senior librarian at UCSB). The Ralstons would shortly join Donanne in West Los Angeles and they would all live together for about a year during which Donanne began working at the Santa Monica public library.

Next post: Fred has returned from Africa. Donanne has finished her library degree at UCLA. Finally… They meet.