Being a lover of taking adventure tours and travels, it may be a bit hard to decide whether to visit Serengeti (Tanzania) or the Masai Mara (Kenya). These two parks have a common factor despite being in different countries; ‘the Great Wildebeest Migration’. This migration is considered the most spectacular action nature has to offer.
Each and every year, millions of wildebeests, zebras, and antelopes of various species travel back and forth from the Serengeti to the Mara via the rivers of life and death; Mara River and Grumeti River. One may think that these two rivers only quench the thirst of the migrating herbivores but they also pose a great obstacle in the great migration. These waters are highly infested with crocodiles which eagerly wait for the migrating buffet. It is also expected that great predators follow closely trying their luck on this ‘migrating buffet.’
The great migration is a series of events, implying that it is not an isolated event. Grumeti River is usually the first crossing point as these herbivores move from the Serengeti to the Mara. The Mara River is crossed numerous times as the wildebeests move from east to west, back and forth within the Masai Mara before they finally travel southwards to the Serengeti once again. This migration follows a circular route covering about 800km across the Serengeti which is located in the northern part of Tanzania and the Mara, located in the southern part of Kenya.
Why the restless movements of these creatures?
The answer to this question is pretty straightforward: survival. Survival instincts trigger the movement of these large herds of wildebeests within, to and from the Serengeti (Tanzania) to the Masai Mara (Kenya). These creatures usually move in search of pasture and water. On their heels are the predators that are also in obedience to their survival instinct to maintain their populations but in a bloodthirsty manner.
Wildebeest and friends are fond of hanging out together since there’s safety in numbers. Predators are usually challenged in hunting a single one of them among many others and so their survival odds are pretty high when they graze and move in numbers. Another obvious reason is food. Wildebeests and their close friends will only hang out in areas with enough pasture.
But won’t grazing in millions on similar grounds result in food running out fast? This may be true but it happens that wildebeests, zebras, and antelopes all eat different parts of grasses on the Mara and Serengeti savanna plains and so they can happily share the available pasture for some time before embarking on the journey to other greener areas.
Is there a specific time of the year when the migration takes place?
There are a couple of reasons why The Great Wildebeest Migration is a bit unpredictable. The rains may come earlier in the year, later or there may be no rains at all. This, in turn, means that pasture, on the other hand, may sprout earlier, later or not at all. These creatures usually move to areas that are able to provide enough pasture to sustain their populations.
In relation to the rains, mother nature is so unpredictable and the weatherman can only make educated guesses. The wildebeest are wild animals and so they are not so smart to know that the journey should begin at a particular time but they are smart enough to follow their survival instincts. As stated earlier, these movements are triggered by the urge to seek enough pasture or escape any other danger.
From January to around March, heavy rains usually fall in the Serengeti and this marks the beginning of the calving season in the wildebeest family. Around half a million wildebeest are born. This is a great time of the year to visit the area as you won’t only get to see the unbelievably cute calves but also the gory and exciting hunting action as predators prey on these vulnerable newborns.
By the time it gets to April, the population has been growing in the previous months, food in the area starts becoming scarce. From April to around June, the large herds move through the western parts towards the Grumeti River and the heart of Serengeti, Seronera, and of course followed by predators such as lions and leopards. Being centrally positioned in the Serengeti, this is the area where most game drives take place. Its spectacular landscape with sweeping grassland plains and umbrella-like thorn trees and rocky outcrops provides mind-blowing views of these creatures grazing and chilling out in the sun. A hot air balloon in such a plain landscape in the evening would be the best way to end the day in the park.
This series of events are best viewed between June and September where the stakes are high for these curious herbivores and the prey that stalk them. The crossing of the Mara River is the most dramatic part of the whole migration process. This is the part that you will get to experience and see the wild images. In fact, this is why most people visit the Mara. Since it is unpredictable in terms of the specific times and hours it will take place, the longer you stay in the area during the season, the greater your chance of seeing this magical action nature has to offer.
As short rains approach and the dry season gets longer in late October through to December, the herds head back towards the south into Serengeti where the grasslands are much greener. The cycle of events continues.
What is so spectacular about the great wildebeest migration?
- This journey involves, not hundreds, not thousands but millions of wildebeests
- A number of other herbivores join in, though in smaller numbers (Zebras and antelopes)
- Such large populations of wildebeest and other herbivores attract plenty of predators (cheetahs, lions, wild dogs, jackals, leopards, hyenas and many more). Such predators do not follow the large herds of migrating wildebeests but it is, in fact, the wildebeest that cross through the predators’ natural homes.
- The ambiance of huge herds of wildlife moving across the plains, kicking up dust, frenzy swimming, thrashing and rushing wildebeests as huge crocodiles snap at their heels and snack on a few of them.
- Within the paths of this great migration, there are other animals that live there permanently including elephants, giraffes, warthogs, rhinos and a bunch of birds that spectate this sensational migration in both Serengeti and the Mara.
The Masai Mara and the Serengeti offer spectacular sceneries all year round. This implies that even if one’s traveling time and budget do not allow a witnessing of The Great Wildebeest Migration, there is a wealth of other resident game (giraffes, rhinos, elephants, over 500 bird species, jackals, cheetahs, etc.) and incredible landscapes and plains. Savannah vistas that stretch to infinity, game drives along bumpy plains, the hunting action, spectacular views from hot air balloon rides and cultural visits to resident local communities are more than just beautiful activities to engage in the Mara and the Serengeti.