African Wildlife Spectacle and Great Migration in East Africa
Africa never ceases to stun aspiring safari travellers but probably the most compelling African wildlife spectacle on Earth is the annual Wildebeest Migration in East Africa. The greatest migration of mammals on Earth is a natural drama that plays out in the splendour of Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park and the magnificence of Kenya’s Masai Mara Game Reserve. Every year tens of thousands of African plains game risk death and adversity crossing the Masai Mara and the Serengeti. We bring you the greatest migration on Earth in pictures to show you the unbelievable forces driving these animals to better feeding and breeding grounds.
Perfection in Africa, and what could be more perfect than the instinctual search for food and water, the survival of the fittest? The Serengeti National Park in Tanzania is the start of the annual Great Wildebeest Migration when 500 000 calves are born and start to move with the herds in a natural cyclical route to the Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya, and back again. Each ecosystem experiences periods of silence and rejuvenation and wild times as host to millions of wildebeest and zebra in a quest for food and water.
Witness the most incredible natural phenomena on Earth. Picture a mind-blowing 40 km column of wildebeest, zebra and gazelles moving across 800 km of open grasslands and dry woodlands. The Great Wildebeest Migration is the largest overland animal migration on Earth occurring at exactly the same time every year in the open plains of the Masai Mara and Serengeti.
When the wildebeest start running between Tanzania and Kenya the tourists start arriving to witness the greatest show in East Africa. Follow huge herds of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle as they move from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara and back again, from April to October in a never-ending cycle of survival and life. See the herd in winter in the southern Serengeti, or see the herd in summer in the Masai Mara, and in autumn in the northern Serengeti.
During the drier winter months in the Serengeti, thousands of wildebeest move to the Western Corridor and must cross the swollen Grumeti River, packed with lurking crocodiles and strongly flowing waters. These perils are only worsened by the greedy lions waiting on the other side for a bite to eat. The race of opportunism is lost and won according to nature’s lore. It goes without saying that lions are doing very well in East Africa!
The wildebeest are moving to greener pastures as their calving region dries. This can be anytime from April to June when it’s the height of the greatest African spectacle on earth – 2 million wildebeest making a 40 km long column marching to greener pastures in the Masai Mara. The herd moves to the Western Corridor to face the enormous hurdle of the Grumeti River, sometimes waiting for two weeks on the riverbanks before crossing this treacherous obstacle!
The annual great migration can be tragic to witness but for the wildlife, this is life – some 250 000 wildebeest and 30 000 zebra during their journey every year. Some die in the jaws of hungry lions, others die of exhaustion, river drownings, stampedes in nervous herds, thirst and hunger. Other predators lurk in the shadows and opportunistically take animals at every turn – hyenas, cheetahs, leopards and African wild dogs. To this end, more than 3 000 lions presently thrive in the Serengeti alone!
Wildebeest herds are known to split up and travel in different directions during the migration because they do not follow a natural leader. Researchers think that there is one mega herd surrounded by smaller herds all moving in their cyclical route. The entire migration can cover the entire Serengeti as millions of wildebeest swarm to find water and food. This ‘swarm intelligence’ is an instinctive drive to move forward and conquer any obstacles in their path as one large unit.
Tiny wildebeest calves can walk as soon as they are born, survival of the fittest, keeping up with the herds. Some 500 000 calves are dropped on the annual migration in the southern Serengeti when the migration starts from January until March. The rainy season is the mating and breeding period for the wildebeest in a vast grassland area that stretches to Ndutu near the Ngorongoro Crater area. It’s a good time to be on safari to see all the offspring and the predators arriving en masse to feed opportunistically.
The Mara River is an enormous and dangerous barrier in their path and the wildebeest have to cross it twice. From August to September, the great wildebeest migration is in Kenya’s Masai Mara, a good time to be there on safari to witness the huge herds grazing and resting. Observe smaller groups of wildebeest crossing the Mara River over and over for feeding opportunities. When they move north, the wildebeest must still cross the Mara River as they return from their incredible quest for survival. They are vulnerable to rapids, drownings, greedy crocs and lurking lions.
Fear, anxiety and the urge to make it to the other side drive the wildebeest across the Mara River. They take a leap of faith into surging rapids where crocodiles cruise, many of them not making it to the riverbank. Stampedes of terrified animals churn up the water, trapping many wildebeest underwater. It’s a tragic part of the migration and various hungry predators lie in wait for the tired and scared wildebeest.
Huge Nile crocodiles live in the Mara and Grumeti Rivers where the wildebeest must cross every year. They instinctively know when the wildebeest are coming, and they lie in wait. Crocodiles do not chew their meat, they drown their prey by gripping the animal in their massive jaws and dragging them under water, shaking and twisting to break the dying animal up. The crocodile uses its powerful tail as a weapon to launch its attack far across the water.
Nearly 2 million blue wildebeest join the Great Migration in East Africa and while it may seem to be one massive unit, there are smaller herds merging and adapting as they journey at speed across the Masai Mara and the Serengeti. In that sense, every herd is vast, creating safety from danger in large numbers. The sight of wildebeest moving en masse is miraculous and awe-inspiring and will change your life forever! The heart of an African safari should be this wondrous natural phenomenon in Kenya and Tanzania.
If you are interested in our safaris that cover the Great Wildebeest Migration, see our top safari best sellers here.