Great Wildebeest Migration

Great Wildebeest Migration

 

Great Wildebeest Migration stands as one of the most coveted experiences for wildlife and nature enthusiasts—a perpetual journey of over a million animals across the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. This ceaseless movement witnesses columns of wildebeest, accompanied by a multitude of fellow travelers, tracing an ancient route in pursuit of grazing lands and water sources. Beginning with calving in the southern reaches of Tanzania’s Serengeti near the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the creatures traverse the Serengeti in a clockwise direction, making their way up and around towards Kenya’s Masai Mara, only to return once more as the year draws to a close. Throughout this odyssey, the stage is set for high drama: predators claim their prey while thousands of new lives enter the world, replenishing the ranks and perpetuating the eternal cycle of life.

What is the Great Wildebeest Migration

Great-wildebeest-Migration

The Great Migration stands as the most massive herd movement of animals on Earth, a spectacle so grand that it’s visible from space, with columns of wildebeest numbering up to 1,000 per square kilometer.

The sheer numbers are staggering: over 1.2 million wildebeest, accompanied by 300,000 zebra, alongside topi and other gazelle, traverse the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem in a perpetual quest for nourishing grass and water. Driven by primal instincts, each wildebeest embarks on an individual journey spanning 800 to 1,000 kilometers along ancient migration routes. Amidst this natural phenomenon, hungry predators including lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, wild dogs, and crocodiles ensure that only the fittest survive—a spectacle often dubbed ‘the greatest show on Earth.’

The circuitous route takes the animals from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (though not directly into the Crater itself) in the south of Tanzania’s Serengeti, through the Serengeti itself, across into Kenya’s Masai Mara, and back again. The journey is fraught with peril: young calves fall prey to predators, the slow are brought down by lion prides, brave beasts succumb to injuries on steep riverbanks, crocodiles claim their share of the stragglers, and the weak and weary meet their end in the waters.

The migrant grazers, divided into three groups, exhibit distinct grass-eating behaviors. As one group consumes the top of the tallest grass, the next group targets medium-height grass, gradually depleting it until little remains, prompting the herds to move on. Each group tends to stick to its preferred grass type, with minimal overlap in their distributions. Notably, the plains’ grasses boast the highest protein content across the Serengeti and are rich in calcium.

The wildebeest’s navigational abilities remain a subject of mystery. However, it’s widely believed that their movements are primarily influenced by weather patterns; they instinctively track the rains and the growth of fresh grass. Although lacking scientific confirmation, some experts speculate that the animals may respond to distant lightning and thunderstorms. There are even suggestions that wildebeest possess the remarkable ability to detect rainfalls occurring more than 50 kilometers away.

How Does the Great Migration move throughout the year?

Great-wildebeest-Migration

Whether dropping calves or navigating treacherous river crossings while evading predators, the Great Migration remains in perpetual motion throughout the year. Explore below to discover the migration’s whereabouts during different seasons, or click on a specific month to delve into that phase of the migration:

  • January, February, and March
  • April and May
  • June and July
  • August, September, and October
  • November and December

The Great  Wildebeest Migration in January, February and March

In January each year, the migration concludes its southward journey, traversing the eastern edge of the Serengeti and entering the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Here, the lush plains teem with nutritious grass, providing an ideal environment for the herds to nurture their newborn calves.

While the migratory circuit has no definitive beginning or end, the birthing season marks a significant phase. Around late January or February, the herds congregate on the short-grass plains that stretch across the lower northern slopes of the Ngorongoro Crater highlands and around Olduvai Gorge. Remarkably, approximately 400,000 calves are born within a span of two to three weeks, equating to nearly 8,000 new calves each day.

With the abundance of vulnerable young calves, the surrounding predators become highly active, taking advantage of the sheer numbers of wildebeest. Those keen on observing calving and the intense drama of big cats on the hunt should consider staying at Asilia’s migration camps in the southern Serengeti. These camps, including Olakira, Kimondo, and Ubuntu, offer direct access to the action-packed scenes of wildlife interactions during this pivotal time of the migration.

The Great Migration in April and May

After giving birth to their young in February and March, the wildebeest herds begin their northwestward drift around April, seeking the fresher grasslands of the central Serengeti. Accompanied by thousands of zebra and smaller groups of antelope, the herds create striking columns stretching for several kilometers by May. As they converge near the Moru Kopjes, close to Dunia Camp, one of the few camps in the Serengeti offering migration viewing during this period, the spectacle of wildlife migration unfolds.

Mating season commences toward the end of May, marked by intense battles between male wildebeest. Throughout ‘the rut,’ the journey proceeds at a leisurely pace, with the wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle grazing as they traverse the landscape.

The Great Wildebeest Migration in June and July

As June marks the onset of the dry season, large concentrations of wildebeest gather in the Western Serengeti and along the southern banks of the Grumeti River. Each migrating animal faces the formidable challenge of crossing the crocodile-infested river—a daunting and tense ordeal that heralds the start of numerous river crossings to come.

As June transitions into July, hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra continue their journey northward along the western edge of the park, heading toward an even riskier obstacle: the Mara River in the northern Serengeti. These river crossings are widely regarded as one of the most thrilling wildlife events on the planet, with the timing dictated by nature itself.

In July, the herds typically congregate in the Northern Serengeti, accessible via Asilia’s mobile migration camps and Sayari Camp for those seeking a touch of luxury. Later in July, animals that have successfully traversed the Mara River can be found in the Masai Mara, where guests of Rekero Camp enjoy front-row seats to river crossings right from the main deck of the camp. During this time, daily river crossings are a common sight at the Mara and Talek rivers, offering unforgettable wildlife spectacles.

The Great Wildebeest  Migration in August, September and October

During August, the herds confront the daunting task of crossing the Mara River, dispersing across the northern region of the Masai Mara, with many lingering in the northern Serengeti. The annual migration presents a formidable challenge, especially during years when the river flows forcefully. The crossings are fraught with panic and confusion, exacerbated by lurking predators and swift currents, often resulting in significant loss of life. Even during years of gentler water flow, the presence of crocodiles and other predators adds to the toll, as they lie in wait to ambush any wildebeest attempting the perilous journey.

As September transitions into October, the peak of the chaos subsides, and the migrating columns gradually shift eastward. Yet, the arduous journey isn’t over for the wildebeest, as they must once again confront the formidable waters of the Mara River in preparation for their return journey southward.

The Great Migration in November and December

Following the East African short rains in late October and early November, the wildebeest descend from Kenya and venture into the eastern boundaries of the Serengeti, passing through Namiri Plains, renowned for exceptional cheetah sightings. By December, they disperse across the eastern and southern expanses of the region.

As the new year unfolds, the grasslands in the southern reaches of the Serengeti flourish with the abundance of rain, attracting not only the wildebeest but also hundreds of thousands of zebra and various other plains animals. This marks the beginning of the calving season, perpetuating the timeless cycle of renewal and migration.

 

 

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