The Great Wildebeest Migration

It is rated as one of the world’s most spectacular natural events. Starring wildebeest as the principle players, featuring minor characters the predators and scavengers, staged in two different countries and a major obstacle – the Mara river.

No where in the world is there a movement of animals as immense as the wildebeest migration, over two million animals migrate from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the greener pastures of the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya from July through to October.

The Migration

It is mid – may in the Serengeti and the dry season is well underway. The stage is set for the millions of wildebeest to embark on their long journey, hundreds of kilometers north word, to the Masai Mara. The Mara receives a fair amount of rainfall compared to the Serengeti. Rain falls here throughout the year, with peaks usually in April, May and August. Plenty of grass remains after the Serengeti plains to the South have dried up.

Late August and the wildebeest have been on the march for about three months. Exhausted and emaciated and almost on the end of their journey they encounter the Mara river a natural frontier that separates the Mara in Kenya and Serengeti in Tanzania. The wildebeest are in a dreadful state, the plains have been trampled on for days and there’s nothing left to graze.

The youngest and weakest collapse and remain where they fall. Green pastures lie ahead but so does the final ordeal – fording the Mara River. The wildebeest converge on the river, in their tens of thousands, massing on the banks awaiting the moment when the more fearless among them will take the plunge. Meanwhile the scavengers and predators await in anticipation, they sense the critical moment is near. The victims rarely miss an appointment.

The plunge begins, driven by hunger and urged on by the mass, the first few on the front-line jump, the rest follow transfixed by this wild frenzy. The first among them gets across, getting out of the river is just as dangerous as the opposite bank wall is too steep.

Thousands of animals are trying to ford the river at this point – a recipe for disaster! The muddy rocks offer little grip to their hooves, the breathtaking spectacle is turning to tragedy. The wildebeest seem programmed to carry on with their journey come what may.

Some break their backs leaping from the steep banks but it does not seem to matter, what matters is to keep going. This is the last step of their long journey, they must reach the opposite bank without drowning or being swept downstream by the river current. Most make their way out, but quite a number are trampled upon.

All the while, lurking in the murky waters of the mara river is one of the most ferocious beasts of the African savanna – the crocodile. Their camouflage allows them to largely go unnoticed. Their time has come and without doubt, they exert a heavy toll from the hordes of wildebeest passing through their domain. Having survived on meager rations for most of the year the wildebeest migration is a major feast for the crocodiles.

The spectacle is finally over. Gradually peace returns to the Mara river  – the crossing has exerted quite a number of casualties. Some of  the carcasses have drifted downstream, resulting in a stoke pile of dead decomposing meat. The vultures get to work – they too are having a major feast. Other actors such as the Marabou storks remain on the fringes of the fray pilfering tiny pieces.

The crossing has been devastating for the wildebeest, but outstanding for the predators and scavengers.

Across the bank the Hyenas are on a hunting expedition for other victims of the migration. Those that have been injured, malnourished or too fatigued are sure prey. Many calves have also been separated from their mothers during the crossing.

The calves wander for days looking for mum, bleating and bawling incessantly. On rare occasions they are lucky and find her, but no wildebeest cow will adopt a strange calf, even if she has lost her own and is lactating at the time. The lost calf weakens, becoming an easy victim for any watching predator.

The wildebeest that have arrived safe and sound have now overrun the plains of the mara, the rains are holding off and the grass is still a little dry but far more abundant than in the Serengeti. The rains soon arrive and everything comes to life.

It only takes a few days for the grasslands to become green again for the dry dust in the air to be replaced by the scent of wet grass. The wildebeest will stay here long enough to  grow strong again when in late November they will retrace their steps and return home to the Serengeti, repeating the spectacle this time on the Tanzania side of the border.

Curiously the wildebeest change their itinerary from year to year never reusing the crossing point from the last migration. It is a dynamic process which defies predictions: no two years are ever quite the same.

Planning a Safari this year? If there is a safari you should go on, this has it be it. It is incredible, it is magical, and indescribable.

At bountiful safaris you are assured of experiencing this magical adventure first hand and in the finest way possible. Our experienced tour consultants are on hand to assist in planning this once in a life time experience.

3 days 2 Nights Migrations Offer: Budget tented camp ksh 14,500/usd 200

Olmoran tented camp ksh 21,000/usd 300

Mara sopa lodge ksh 27,000/usd 380

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