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wildebeest migration

Wildebeest Migration

The great wildebeest migration is one of the most phenomenal natural spectacles in the world. It is an annual movement by millions of wildebeest, accompanied by large numbers of zebra, Grant’s gazelle, Thompson’s gazelle, elands and impalas across the greater Maasai Mara-Serengeti ecosystem.

From July to September the Mara welcomes the Great Migration of thousands of wildebeest and zebra from the Serengeti in Tanzania to Maasai Mara in Kenya. During the wildebeest migration, you will witness how the constant battle for survival makes the Migration Season a particularly exhilarating time to visit Basecamp Explorer Kenya.

The Mara River crossing activity is considered the climax of the migration period. Mara River crossing is an event that will take you through a range of emotions: anticipation, heartache, inspiration, excitement and so much more. The sheer sight of the first herds of animals rushing into the crocodile-infested river will make you long for this wildebeest migration every year.

wildebeest migration route

It is unclear how the wildebeest know which way to go, but it is generally believed that their journey is dictated primarily by their response to the weather; they follow the rains and the growth of new grass. While there is no scientific proof of it, some experts believe that the animals react to lightning and thunderstorms in the distance. It has even been suggested that wildebeest can locate rain more than 50km away.

The Great Migration in January, February and March
Around January each year, the migration will be finishing a southwards trek, moving along the eastern edge of the Serengeti and into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Here the plains are rich in nutritious grass, providing the herds with the best conditions for raising their newborn calves.

Although there is no real beginning or end to this migratory circuit – other than birth and death – it seems reasonable to call the wildebeests’ birthing season the start of the migration. Around late-January or February, the herds occupy the short-grass plains that spread over the lower northern slopes of the Ngorongoro Crater highlands and around Olduvai Gorge. Some 400,000 calves are born here within a period of two to three weeks - some 8,000 new calves every day.

The abundance of vulnerable young calves means the surrounding predators also spring into action, hunting with ease due to the sheer numbers of wildebeest.

wildebeest migration
The Great Migration in April and May
After bearing their young in February and March, around April the wildebeest herds begin to drift north-west towards the fresher grass of the central Serengeti, drawing with them thousands of zebra and smaller groups of antelope. By May, columns of wildebeest stretch for several kilometres as the animals start to congregate by the Moru Kopjes, close to Dunia Camp, of the few camps in the Serengeti that offers migration viewing at this time of year. Mating season begins towards the end of May and male wildebeest battle head-to-head. Throughout 'the rut', the journey continues at leisure, with the wildebeest, zebra and gazelle grazing as they go along.

Gradually, the movement gathers momentum and the wildebeest start to mass in the Serengeti’s Western Corridor. The herds form in huge numbers along the pools and channels of the river, which they have to cross in order to continue on their journey. This may not be as spectacular as the famous Mara crossings, but there are still enough wildebeest to provide the Grumeti crocs with a veritable feast.

wildebeest migration
The Great Migration in June and July
During June, the dry season starts, with large concentrations of wildebeest in the Western Serengeti and on the southern banks of the Grumeti River. Each migrating animal must face the challenge of crossing the crocodile-infested river - the first of many daunting and tense river encounters. As June moves into July, the hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra continue to head north along the western edge of the park towards an even riskier barrier: the Mara River in the north of the Serengeti. These river crossings are arguably one of the most exciting wildlife events on Earth; they usually start at the onset of high season in July, but timing all depends on nature.

Later in July, those animals that have successfully made it across the Mara River will also be found in Kenya’s Masai Mara, where daily river crossings can be seen at the Mara and Talek rivers – both often central to incredible scenes.

wildebeest migration

The Great Migration in August, September and October
By August, the herds have faced the challenge of crossing the Mara River and are spread throughout the Masai Mara's northern region, with many remaining in the northern Serengeti. In years when the river is in full flow, the panic and confusion at the crossings – combined with waiting predators and surging currents – can cause massive loss of life. But, even in years of relatively gently flowing water, the crocs take their toll – not to mention the lions and other large predators that patrol the banks, ready to ambush any wildebeest that make it to the other side. There is no single crossing: at some spots, there are just a few individuals, while others see a mass of animals moving without break for hours.

By September to October, the main chaos has ended and the migrating columns have gradually moved eastwards. However, they wildebeest will face the heavy waters of the Mara River once more as they prepare to cross once again for their return journey southwards.

Closing the Cycle
By late October, when the first of the short rains are falling on the Serengeti’s short-grass plains, filling seasonal waterholes and bringing new flushes of growth, the wildebeest start heading south again. The herds trek down through the eastern woodlands of the Serengeti, some 90 per cent of the cows heavy with the new season’s young. Tightly grouped as they pass through the wooded country the wildebeest scatter and spread out again once they reach the open plains.

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