Hundreds of thousands of wildebeest have begun to surge across the mighty Mara River, in a migration crossing that is truly one of the greatest wildlife spectacles in the world.
Often portrayed as an event that takes place annually around the month of August, the Great Migration is really a continuous year-round cycle – driven by rains and the need to move towards better grazing – between Kenya and Tanzania.
Photo © T R Shankar Raman, GNU Free documentation License
Here is a 5 point guide to understanding the great wildebeest migration:
1. Late November and December
After the East African ‘short rains’ at the end of October into early November the wildebeest move down the eastern limits of the Serengeti system onto the short-grass plains. By December they are spread throughout the southern reaches.
2. January, February and March
In the early months of the year the rain-plump grasses in the deep south of the Serengeti system feed the milling herds, not only of wildebeest, but hundreds of thousands of zebra and other plains animals as well. Over a peak two- to three-week calving season some 500,000 wildebeest are borne.
3. April and May
The herds begin to drift northwards, drawing with them thousands of zebra and smaller groups of antelopes. Gradually the movement gathers momentum and by the end of May the wildebeest are starting to mass in the Serengeti’s Western Corridor.
4. June and July
The herds are now gathering in numbers along the pools and channels of the Grumeti River. They build towards crossings that may not be as spectacular as the Mara crossings, but are nevertheless dense enough to provide the Grumeti crocs with a substantial feast. The plains are dry now and there is a sense of urgency as the columns press northwards, beckoned by the Mara’s well watered grasses. Thirst, hunger, exhaustion and predation see the demise of some 250,000 wildebeest on the long south to north trek.
5. August, September and October
During August the herds spread through the northern Serengeti and are now faced with the challenge of the Mara River. In years when the river is in full spate, the panic and confusion at the crossings combined with predation and surging currents can cause massive loss. But even in years of relatively gentle flow the crocs take their toll, not to mention the lions and other large predators that patrol the banks ready to ambush wildebeest seemingly at will. There is no single crossing, some are just a trickle of a few individuals, others see a mass of animals moving without break for hours. By October the madness has ended and the migrating columns are moving sedately southwards to completing the cycle.
For more information on the wildebeest migration read Peter Borchert’s – founder of Africa Geographic – story on the Magnificent Mara.
Keep blogged-in for our top ten travel tips on the wildebeest migration, coming soon!