The Great Wildebeest Migration
Great Wildebeest Migration – Nomadic Safaris
The great wildebeest migration is one of the most thrilling spectacles of nature.
This repetitive cycle occurs every year between July and October where more than 1.5 million wildebeests, zebras, elands and gazelles move mysteriously and instinctually in a circular clockwise motion from Serengeti in Tanzania to Masai Mara in Kenya in search of grass and water. This great mass movement is a spectacular natural wonder of the world. This period provides nature lovers with the best opportunity to view the predators such as the lions, leopards, hyenas, cheetahs and also crocodiles as they attack the unsuspecting wildebeests. During the migration around 300,000 wildebeest and 30,000 zebra are killed every year as a result of predation by the carnivores, they also die from thirst, hunger, and exhaustion. Most of the migration takes place in Tanzania in the vast Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area and further south.
At the onset of the long rains, at around April, herds of wildebeests leave the hot dry eastern Serengeti moving towards the north west past Moru kopjes with others moving towards the west into the woodlands of the hilly part of Seronera towards Lake Victoria. The migration frontrunners are the zebras that favor the coarse grass with long stems. The wildebeests relish the fresh, young and short grass which zebras do not fancy. The zebras have a superior memory and unique sense of smell, as they sense rain and water. Zebras signal and lead the wildebeests to the Masai Mara, as they search for new pasture lands and water.
At around June they begin the annual rut, where more than half a million females mate with the bulls in less than a month as they move towards the woodland and to the plains of the western corridors of the Serengeti. The rutting season mostly coincides with the full moon.
Around the month of July they approach the grasslands of Masai Mara in Kenya after having to overcome the crocodile infested Grumeti river in Serengeti. Many animals drown as they cross the Grumeti, as they can be pulled downstream as its rushing waters head westward towards Lake Victoria. The highlight of the Mara migration is the Mara river crossing. The wildebeests will normally get to the Mara river in big groups and as the groups build up, they eventually chose crossing points which they consider safe from predators. At times the Mara river can be swollen and with strong currents leading to some of the animals breaking their limbs or getting stuck in the rocks. The Nile crocodiles who by this time are lying patiently waiting for them get an opportunity to attack, clutching their prey with their strong jaws and suffocating them by drowning them under the water. Others get injured during the stampede and are easily grabbed by the crocs. Studies have shown that some wildebeests chose the same crossing points, something that has been genetically imprinted in the minds of these animals. This magnificent scene attracts hundreds of big cats as the numerous animals provides more than enough prey. After a successful migration, the herds of wildebeest team up with the resident Mara population which is about 150,000 and spend most of the period grazing north east Mara plains. The resident wildebeest are commonly known as the Loita plains herd.The Mara river crossing is the experience that makes Masai Mara a unique safari destination and the fact that it is home to the Big five.
Trekking back to Serengeti
As October approaches, the grass at Masai Mara plains has been trimmed to ground level and in some parts dried up. The herds start trekking back to Serengeti plains which by this time due to the short rains the lush grass has grown afresh. Moving through the eastern woodlands of Serengeti, they spread out as they reach the open plains in the southern Serengeti and Ndutu in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
By mid-January towards February, the wildebeest congregate en masse to areas below the Ngorongoro Crater on the Serengeti. For two to three weeks’ period, the wildebeest cows give birth to more than 400,000 calves. The synchronized calving occurs in the short grass plains. This is where a new generation is born and starts the cycle of life. Newborn calves are equipped for survival, they are known to gain coordination very fast, getting to their feet two to three minutes after birth and are able to run with the herd after just five minutes. Calving season is a time to see the drama of the hunt as predatory animals seek the newborn wildebeests. However,the predators quickly become satiated and are unable to consume much, therefore having less impact on the calf population. All the same many of the calves die in the first year due to malnutrition, fatigue and diseases besides predation. The nutrient rich short grasses, which contain higher levels of protein, sodium, calcium and phosphorus, are healthy for the lactating wildebeest cows. The calves that survive join the grazing herds as they make their maiden journey to Masai Mara.
During this season, the southern Serengeti has specific areas that provide exceptional views of the Great Migration such as the Moru Kopjes.
Contact us for more information