What Is The Great Wildebeest Migration?
There’s a big chance you have heard (if not seen) the Great Wildebeest Migration.
Also known as the Great Migration or the Wildebeest Migration, the Great Wildebeest Migration refers to the long and arduous journey where millions of wildebeest and other grazers move through the Serengeti and the Masai Mara ecosystems in pursuit of the rains. The Wildebeest Migration is arguably the greatest tourist highlight in East Africa.
Contrary to popular misconceptions out there, the migration doesn’t start and end in a few days. Instead, it’s a year-round cyclic journey that’s marked by perilous river crosses, high-speed big cat hunts, and lots of other exciting activities in between.
If you’re planning to share in the experiences of these herds as they journey through the expansive Mara – Serengeti ecosystem, you would need to work closely with professional local Kenya tour operators such as AJKenyasafaris.com and MasaiMarasafari.in.
Read on for more insights on what the migration is about, the special highlights within the journey, and the best time to visit Masai Mara and Serengeti national park for the annual wildebeest migration.
Which Animals Are Involved?
The Great Wildebeest Migration is so named due to the high number of wildebeest involved. But, the journey doesn’t exclusively involve wildebeest herds.
Various statistics estimate that there are at least 1.5 million wildebeest, 200,000 Burchell’s zebras, 350, 000 Thomson’s gazelles, as well as thousands of antelopes and other hoofed animals that take part in this migration. That doesn’t include many other animals, such as buffalos, that are usually coopted along the way.
Of course, it’s impossible to accurately determine the actual number of animals that move through the entire ecosystem in a single journey. That’s because a lot happens along the way. Hundreds of the herds are preyed on by river-dwelling Nile crocodiles and other predators, mostly the big cats. Many more animals perish by other means, such as drowning during the chaotic river crossings and getting trampled during stampede.
According to the rules of natural selection, only the strongest and most adaptable herds make it to the end of each journey, ensuring that future wildebeest generations comprise of only the most resilient animals.
But while many wildebeest perish in the course of the migration, many more are born during the calving season. Wildebeest are known to be very prolific, and at the peak calving season, up to 8,000 calves are born every day. As you shall find, the calving season mostly takes place on the Serengeti side and is the stillest phase of the migration.
The Migration in Months
The wildebeest herds are in the Serengeti National Park, specifically in Southern Serengeti regions around Lake Ndutu and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. It is also the calving season in January, making it one of the best times to catch big cat hunts.
However, high-speed chases are rare. The many calves born provide an easy meal for lions, leopards, brown hyenas, and wild dogs that rule the Serengeti plains.
The grass is still lush in the Southern Serengeti, Ngorongoro, and Ndutu areas, so there isn’t much movement around this time.
The mating season commences, and the testosterone surges in the males see them frequently lock horns as they jostle for mating rights with receptive females.
Though the animals are still in the south, they have significantly reduced the grazing pasture.
The little grass remaining on the plains begins to wither, prompting the herds to gather as they prime themselves for the long journey north. This month also sees the last calves born.
The journey begins in earnest as the wildebeest herds head northward. Instinctively, even the animals that had wandered to different regions within the Serengeti now begin to advance north.
The animals frequently split again, and the splinter herds wander a bit from the migration paths in search of pasture. However, mothers and their calves mostly keep up with the main herds.
Now, the migration is in full gear. As water sources dry up within the Serengeti, the animals’ drive to head north is stronger than ever.
Gradually, most of the herds funnel up into the western and central Serengeti. Columns of up to 40 kilometers can be witnessed as the migration heads to the Grumeti River.
The western and central Serengeti regions still boast much of the action in the Great Migration safari.
The weather is much cooler and drier, and the plains are somewhat dusty.
The animals get to their first major obstacle in the migration path – the Grumeti River.
This is one of the best times to witness the migration, as hundreds of the crossing herds fall to the mighty Nile crocodiles that reside in the river. More animals panic and in the confusion, are trampled to death.
The herds that survived the crocodile onslaught in the Grumeti River proceed to northern Serengeti, where they feast on the lusher grass as they advance further north.
The animals begin to seamlessly cross into the Mara River as the two parks overlap. If you’ve been following the action from the Tanzanian side, remember that you’ll need a passport to cross over to Kenya.
Splinter groups begin to emerge again. Some herds cross the Mara River into the Masai Mara and others remain in northern Serengeti.
Like the Grumeti River, the Mara River also claims a few hundreds of lives.
The Masai Mara National Reserve is the best place to catch all the action. The Mara plains are flooded with both wildebeest and tourists. Ideally, plan a 4 days or 3 days Masai Mara safari. This will allow you enough time to view the migrating herd and other animals that reside inside the Mara.
The herds have almost depleted all the grass in the Mara plains. It begins to rain on the Serengeti side of the ecosystem.
The wildebeest now graze towards the Mara River as they prepare themselves to make the journey back to Tanzania.
The wildebeest herds are in north-eastern Serengeti, around the Lobo area. The calving season begins yet again, as does the migration cycle.
Evidently, making the most of your Great Wildebeest Migration requires meticulous planning. Therefore, we cannot overemphasize the significance of working with tour companies that understand the routes followed in this historic journey.