Great Wildebeest Migration – The Great Migration stands as a pinnacle experience for wildlife and nature enthusiasts, offering a mesmerizing spectacle of over a million animals engaged in a perpetual circular journey across the vast Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. This awe-inspiring migration is marked by the constant movement of massive columns of wildebeest, accompanied by a diverse array of fellow travelers, as they diligently traverse an ancient route in pursuit of vital grazing lands and water sources. Originating with the calving season in the southern reaches of Tanzania’s Serengeti near the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the migratory journey unfolds in a sweeping clockwise trajectory through the Serengeti, extending into the iconic Masai Mara in Kenya, and eventually culminating in a return journey towards the year’s end.
Amidst this epic pilgrimage, nature unveils high-stakes drama, as thousands of animals fall prey to relentless predators while an equal number are born, contributing to the perpetual renewal of the animal kingdom. This intricate dance of life sustains the delicate balance of the ecosystem, perpetuating the timeless rhythm of birth, death, and renewal that characterizes the extraordinary phenomenon of the Great Migration.
What is the Great Migration in real sense?
The Great Migration stands as a colossal phenomenon, representing the most extensive movement of animals on Earth. The immense columns of wildebeest, numbering up to 1,000 per square kilometer, create a spectacle visible even from space. Astonishingly, over 1.2 million wildebeest, accompanied by 300,000 zebras, topi, and other gazelle, engage in an unceasing cycle across the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, driven by the quest for nutrient-rich grasslands and water sources. Each wildebeest, governed by instinctual survival, embarks on an individual journey covering 800 to 1,000 kilometers along age-old migration routes.
This extraordinary procession through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in the southern Serengeti of Tanzania, extending into the Serengeti and crossing into the Masai Mara in Kenya, and back, is hailed as ‘the greatest show on Earth.’ Nature’s drama unfolds as hungry predators, including lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, wild dogs, and crocodiles, play their role in ensuring only the fittest endure. The circuit, fraught with peril, witnesses the heart-wrenching struggles of the young against predators, the slow succumbing to lion prides, and the brave facing hazards like broken limbs on steep river slopes. The journey is a perilous dance where crocodiles claim their share, and the weak and weary meet their end in the watery depths.
How they move feeding
The migrant grazers, comprising three distinct groups, exhibit varied grass-eating habits as they traverse the Serengeti plains. One group systematically consumes the top of the tallest grass, followed by the next group targeting medium-height grass, leading to a progressive depletion of vegetation until the herds relocate. This behavior results in minimal overlap in their distributions, allowing each group to adhere to its preferred grass type. The plains’ grasses, chosen for their highest protein content in the Serengeti and rich calcium levels, provide essential sustenance for the grazers.
The enigmatic navigation of wildebeest remains a mystery, with prevailing belief attributing their journey to weather cues. It is thought that they track the rains and the growth of new grass, potentially responding to distant lightning and thunderstorms. Despite lacking scientific confirmation, some experts propose that wildebeest may possess an uncanny ability to detect rain from distances exceeding 50 kilometers.
How these wildebeests move throughout the entire year.
Whether it’s the season for wildebeest calving or navigating treacherous river crossings to evade predators, the Great Migration remains in perpetual motion throughout the entire year. Explore further to understand the specific locations of the migration during distinct times of the year, or simply click on the respective month below to delve into that particular season of this remarkable journey:
- January, February, and March
- April and May
- June and July
- August, September, and October
- November and December.
Come January each year, the Great Migration culminates its southward journey, tracing the eastern fringes of the Serengeti and entering the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. In this region, the plains abound with nutrient-rich grass, offering an optimal environment for the herds to nurture their newborn calves. While the migratory circuit lacks a distinct beginning or end, aside from the perpetual cycles of birth and death, it is rational to designate the wildebeests’ birthing season as the commencement of their migration. In late January or February, the herds inhabit the short-grass plains, sprawling across the lower northern slopes of the Ngorongoro Crater highlands and encircling Olduvai Gorge. Remarkably, this period witnesses the birth of around 400,000 calves within a condensed timeframe of two to three weeks, equating to an astonishing influx of nearly 8,000 new calves each day.
Following the birthing season in February and March, the wildebeest herds embark on a northwestward drift around April, seeking the rejuvenating allure of fresher grass in the central Serengeti. This migration beckons thousands of zebras and smaller groups of antelope to join the procession. As May unfolds, the landscape transforms into a spectacle of awe, with columns of wildebeest stretching across several kilometers, converging near the Moru Kopjes. Dunia Camp, a rare haven offering migration viewing during this period, becomes a prime vantage point. Towards the end of May, the mating season ensues, marked by intense head-to-head battles among male wildebeests. This phase, known as ‘the rut,’ sees a leisurely continuation of the journey, with wildebeests, zebras, and gazelles grazing harmoniously as they traverse the terrain.
As the migration gains momentum, the wildebeest congregate in the Western Corridor of the Serengeti. During this phase, Ubuntu Migration Camp strategically relocates to trail the migration, offering a unique vantage point to witness the wildebeest crossing the Grumeti River. The herds assemble in substantial numbers along the river’s pools and channels, facing the imperative of crossing to proceed on their journey. While perhaps not as grandiose as the famed Mara crossings, the spectacle still attracts a considerable number of wildebeests, providing the Grumeti crocodiles with a substantial feast. Notably, May marks the low season at Ubuntu, translating to excellent value for safaris as tourist numbers in the Serengeti remain relatively low. Despite the lower influx of visitors, wildlife viewings during this period continue to be exceptional.
As June ushers in the dry season, substantial gatherings of wildebeest populate the Western Serengeti and the southern banks of the Grumeti River. The migrating herds confront a formidable challenge – the perilous task of crossing the crocodile-infested river, marking the initial trial of many tense river encounters.
Advancing from June into July, the vast multitude of wildebeest and zebras continues their northward trajectory along the western fringe of the park, converging on an even more hazardous obstacle: the Mara River in the northern Serengeti. These river crossings, widely regarded as one of the most exhilarating wildlife events on Earth, typically commence with the advent of the high season in July, their timing dictated by the rhythms of nature.
By July, the herds find themselves in the Northern Serengeti, offering accessible viewing facilitated by Asilia’s mobile migration camps and Sayari Camp for those seeking a touch of luxury. Towards the latter part of July, those triumphant in crossing the Mara River also populate the Masai Mara, where patrons of Rekero Camp can witness riveting river crossings directly from the camp’s main deck during their Kenyan safari. During this period, the Mara and Talek rivers become epicenters of daily river crossings, unfolding in scenes of extraordinary wildlife drama.
In August, the herds, having braved the Mara River crossings, disperse across the northern reaches of the Masai Mara and linger in the northern Serengeti. In years marked by a forceful river flow, the crossings induce panic and confusion, accentuated by the presence of waiting predators and the relentless current, resulting in significant casualties. Even during years with gentler water flows, the resident crocodiles, along with lions and other formidable predators patrolling the riverbanks, contribute to the toll on the migrating wildebeest. Notably, there is no singular crossing point; some locations witness only a few individuals navigating the river, while others observe a relentless stream of animals in motion, persisting for hours without pause.
As September unfolds into October, the peak of tumultuous river crossings subsides, and the migrating columns gradually shift eastward. Nevertheless, the wildebeest face another formidable challenge as they confront the surging waters of the Mara River once more, preparing for their return journey southward.
Following the East African short rains in late October and early November, the wildebeest descend from Kenya, venturing into the eastern expanses of the Serengeti beyond Namiri Plains, renowned for its exceptional cheetah sightings. By December, their presence extends across the eastern and southern reaches of the region.
In the initial months of the ensuing year, the grasslands in the deep south of the Serengeti flourish with nourishing rain. This magnetic pull entices the herds of wildebeest, along with hundreds of thousands of zebras and assorted plains animals. The perpetuating cycle unfolds as the calving season commences once more, marking a renewed chapter in the remarkable journey of the Great Migration.
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