The Wildebeest Migration – African Safari
“One of the World’s biggest spectacles”. Many have so described it. Many have come back time and time again. They have witnessed this mass movement of wild animals roaming free through unspoiled and savage wildness. The air fills with the click click of the cameras tirelessly. You have not seen something like it before.
“Africa is changing at a quick pace and human encroachment into the wildlife reserves has continued to erase the traditional routes. In association with development and changes of the way of life, the image of wildlife roaming free is slowly getting erased. Fortunately, Masai Mara National reserve holds on to its charisma of an open, limitless land. It is one of the places in Africa that yet prides in wildlife concentration and everybody has to see it.” Victoria, Washington.
Masai Mara is located in the Southwestern of Kenya, 180 kilometers from Nairobi. World famous for the abundance of wildlife and the remoteness of the reserve implants memories that no money can buy.
The Migration is a recent phenomenon (60’s and 70’s was the biggest boom) with about 250,000 individuals and gradually with time the number has risen to the current population of over 3,000,000 individuals. Add to it an estimate 1,500,000 Zebras and the result is one of the most magnificent scenes in the world. The massive display attracts hundreds of the big cats as the populations provide abundant prey. The giant African crocodiles lie in wait, patiently, as the big herds come to cross or to water.
It is the masai community who are not so pleased with the whole phenomenon: competing with the wildebeest for pastures and rear their huge herds of boran cattle to the grasslands. To them it is a big calamity especially because the “wild cattle” transmit diseased to their herds and poison the waters their fetal sacs.
This world famous phenomenon is a circle of life which in simple terms means that there is not a start or an end. Only where the herds are located at a particular time. The big determinant is the availability of pastures. The plains of Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Serengeti are a favored spot as grass abounds and the wildebeest find as safe place to graze. It also here that over 500,000 new calves are born and many are taken by the nearby waiting Jackals or Hyenas.
Survivors have little time to strengthen their legs as soon after the pilgrim continues in April. By then, the rains are over in southern Serengeti and the plains have dried up. The great herds then gather and face the long march northwards and westwards. The natural lawn mowers abandon the exhausted grasslands of southern Serengeti to head for the already tall grass of the Western Corridor, near the shores of Lake Victoria. The pioneers of the migration movement are the majestic herds of zebras as they prefer the long stems of the coarse grass. This way they leave behind them shorter grass to the wildebeests.
In late June to July the mass starting pouring into the Kenya Masai Mara reserve where fresh, tender and mineral-rich grass is already waiting. Here they meet the resident Mara populations which add up to about 150,000. Also commonly referred to as the Loita plains herds, they spend most the season northeast of the Mara. When it gets dry the pour into the interior of the Mara in search of greener pastures.
The migrating herds spend roughly 3 to 31/2 months in the Mara crossing through Sand River which is a tributary of the Mara along the boundary of Kenya and Tanzania. They trek westwards and across the Mara river and sometimes the Talek river. Usually around this time heavy rains on the Mau Escarpment (origin of Mara River) fill the Mara river to the brim. This is a good time to watch the trunk-looking crocodiles while they await the forthcoming feast.
Finally they jump into the river and this gregarious coordinated behavior of the herds, sometimes teamed with zebras, creates an unimaginable scene. Usually they wander along the river looking for a convenient crossing point. This is usually a moment filled with tension for both the gnus and the audience. They survey for a convenient crossing point, less steep and with no obvious danger. Finally one takes courage and plunges into the river and magically the rest falls onto the footsteps and in one organized line cross the river.
In addition to the crocodiles, dangers also occur whereby the current of the river can be too strong for some simply getting stuck between the rocks in the river and breaking limbs. This is a direct ticket to the jaws of the giant crocodiles.
Finally the crossing is done and the trek to their unknown destiny continues.
In the month of October they are already heading to Serengeti where the rains have treated the southern grasslands to lush, green carpet of rich grass. Once again they are heading to the southern plains of where a new generation will be born to start the cycle of life all over again.