The Great African Wildebeest Migration
One of the many famous events that takes place each year in East Africa is the ‘great migration’, which would make a strong contestant for any wildlife event of the year competition. The ungulates that take part in the migration consist of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle. They make their way around the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater of Tanzania and the Masai Mara of Kenya in an anti-clockwise direction for over 1,000 miles. It is estimated that over 1,400,000 wildebeest make the year long journey which repeats yearly, as well as 200,000 zebras and gazelle. Along the way many of the animals will meet their end, with some being crushed in the crowded stampedes, others drowning in the rivers that they cross and more unlucky ones falling prey to be picked out by hungry predators such as lions or crocodiles.
In search of pastures new and fresh watering holes, the wildebeest set off on their perilous trip. The exact timing of it can’t be predicted, but we use previous year migration data as a guideline.
During this time the herds stay in the Serengeti plains and the Ngorongoro Conservation area. For six weeks, usually during January and February, masses of pregnant females give birth to as many as 500,000 fresh offspring in total. These young wildebeest then have to begin their never ending life cycle of migration, with the added danger of predators picking them out as an easy meal.
With the rainy season under way, the herds begin to head North-West to settle in the Western area of the Serengeti with the intention to graze on greener pastures.
By June the rainy season is over, marking the stage where the wildebeest begin to mate. The ungulates also begin to move North during this month.
July is a major month in the migration calendar as it is the time where the herds must cross the Grumeti River. Many of the animals will fall victim to hungry crocodiles whilst crossing the river and some may also drown in the depths of the river.
As August approaches, the herds continue to head North with the insight of reaching the Masai Mara of Kenya to graze upon fresh grasslands. Before they reach the new grazing plains they seek, they must cross the Mara River which is populated by crocodiles looking for a struggling, tired weakling from the group to prey upon.
The animals remain situated in the Mara plains for this period of time until late November comes around. This is when the herds make their way South, and the whole migration process repeats.
This article was written by Tom Powell of Ziara Safaris. They can put together a complete migration itinerary specifically tailored to your needs that will allow you to witness the migration at its peak.
Photo by: amanderson2