EAST AFRICA WILDEBEEST MIGRATION SAFARI TOURS IN KENYA & TANZANIA
From Serengeti in Tanzania to Masai Mara In Kenya....And Then Back Again, In One Epic Circle
There is nothing to equal it on the planet. An immense, herding mass of wildlife, by the millions, plodding forward in an ageless route of survival. The search for taller and fresher grasses sends these hordes of grazers – wildebeests, zebras, gazelle, and others – on a constant migration throughout the twelve months of the year, creating a cycle as predictable as the seasons themselves.
From the calving fields in the southern Serengeti, these immense herds of plains animals take a clockwise path into and through Kenya’s Masai Mara, and then later in the year, cross back into Tanzania. This great circle route is a symbiotic process between the grazers, the eco-systems through which they pass, and the masses of predators awaiting them, every step of the way.
The entire journey hums with expectant drama, not only because of the intense masses of wildlife but also because the cycles of birth and death play out along the route.
During the birthing season, up to half a million wildebeest newborns drop onto the fields of the Serengeti. Not far off, predators like lion, leopard, cheetah, jackal, and African wild dog are continually circling the grazers, driven by their own instinct for survival. As nature dictates, not everyone survives this timeless journey.
The Migration’s Astonishing Numbers
When we speak of the wildlife populating the Great Migration, the numbers seem breathtaking – some 1.5 million wildebeests, half a million gazelle, 300,000 zebra, and 18,000 eland antelope amongst other species, such as topi, make up this awesome planetary march through East Africa.
The great arc of this migratory route from Tanzania’s Serengeti to the Masai Mara in Kenya and then back again is some 1000 km/620 mi – all of it trekked month by month through the year. It’s a test of the animals’ endurance and only the strongest survive the predations of the big cats. The challenges of the route itself like the dangerous river crossings where crocodiles also lay in wait.
In an intriguing evolutionary development, each group of grazers consumes different parts of the grasses they come upon. Zebras eat the taller grasses, while wildebeests tend to eat the shorter. And in a fascinating natural symbiosis, it is thought the saliva from these herds, stimulates new growth in the grasses.
Attracted by the rains on the plains ahead, the animals seem to instinctively know that fresh grasses will follow, thus creating their natural route.
Month By Month Through The Great Migration
As with our own lives, every season has its purpose in the scheme of the Great Wildebeest Migration. From birth through maturation, to the northward moving of the herds in the summer months and then finally back again, each season is characterized by its special and unique phases.
January, February, and March – The Birthing Season
Heading south from the Masai Mara and northern Serengeti, the migration enters the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the ecosystem holding the great Ngorongoro Crater, the largest, most intact volcanic caldera in the world. After the rains, the grasses here are long and fresh, attracting the wildebeest mothers who need these nutrient-rich grasses to help gestate and then raise their newborns.
The herds also congregate near Olduvai Gorge, the site of perhaps the world’s most significant anthropological areas. Between these two regions, about 500,000 wildebeest calves are born between January and March. If you visit during this time, you’ll be in the birthing fields where up to 8,000 calves come into being every day.
As mentioned, the drama of all this newborn activity is only matched by the many predators drawn to the site by the thousands of vulnerable animal babies. What plays out next is the aggressive tactics of the predators, defended by the protective movements of the wildebeest mothers. This drama enfolds a thousand times in these sprawling fields.
April, May & June – The Mating Season
Newborn wildebeests can stand almost immediately and can move with the herd in just a few days. Given a month or two in which to mature, by April the herds begin to travel northwest toward the grasses of the Serona, or central Serengeti. As they move, they are joined by thousands of zebra and antelope.
The migration does not follow the exact path every year but is an approximation, depending on the richness of the grasses and the availability of water.
The great trains of the migration soon stretch out for several kilometers. In May, the mating season begins, and with it, you can witness the males battling in head-to-head combat for mating rights.
The herds then turn toward the Serengeti’s western corridor, approaching the Grumeti River for their first crossing. This becomes a scene of high intensity as the animals gather in large numbers at the river’s edge, nervously anticipating the dangers ahead in the unknown waters where crocodiles await.
July, August & September – The Great Migration
The herds head north but they don’t move as one large group. Some split off, moving toward the Grumati Reserve. Many others, continue to the northern Serengeti, trekking toward the green grasses of Kenya’s Masai Mara.
By July, many thousands of wildebeest and zebra edge toward an even bigger and more treacherous river crossing, the Mara River. Feeling the dangers lurking beneath the waters, the animals become agitated – some take a mighty leap across the river, others fall short disappearing beneath the waters, swept away by the current, and still others are trampled by the exploding chaos of the moment.
This crossing is one of the most dramatic wildlife events to experience. You’ll witness nature in its most raw form as grazers and predators both vie for their survival. Approximately 250,000 wildebeests die during the months of their migration – about a sixth of the overall population. Besides the river crossings, death can come from thirst, starvation, and exhaustion.
But as tragic as these deaths appear to us, they are all a part of this natural order. Scavengers feed upon the carcasses which also provide immense amounts of nutrients to the surrounding ecosystem.
By late July and August, much of the herd has crossed the Mara and Talek Rivers and is moving through the Masai Mara’s northern reaches. For the many that have successfully crossed the rivers, danger constantly awaits from the many predators lurking in the Mara.
By September, the river crossings have diminished and the great swaths of migrating wildlife move eastward, always headed for new and fresher grasses.
October, November, & December – Another River Crossing
Come October and early November, the short rains arrive and the herds turn south, headed back once more to cross the treacherous waters of the Mara River. They trudge on to the eastern flanks of the Serengeti, known for its great number of cheetah sightings.
Finally, in December, the massive herds disperse throughout the eastern and southern parts of the Serengeti. The short rains have had their effect here and from December into January and more, the vegetation of the southern Serengeti is lush, attracting wildebeest, zebra, gazelle, and other grazers as the birthing season nears.
Soon the great fields here will be the site of massive calving as these plains wildlife and their predators, all give birth to their young. Not only can you see baby wildebeests, zebra, gazelle, monkeys, giraffes, and more. But, this is an excellent time to spot lion, leopard, and cheetah cubs.
And so this timeless cycle of the Great Migration continues as it has for ages, all of nature’s forces competing, cooperating, recycling, and ensuring the survival of life throughout this incredibly rich and diverse landscape.
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