The Great Wildebeest Migration

The Great Wildebeest Migration is one of the “Seven Wonders of the World”.  This is the movement of over 2 million animals, especially the wildebeest and zebras migrating from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya annually seeking for greener pastures.  This occurs during the month of July through to October. Nowhere in the world is there a movement of animals as vast as the wildebeest migration.

Migration route
The stage starts at Serengeti plains where approximately 1.5million wildebeest, 200,000 Zebras, 350,000 Thompson gazelle are spread everywhere. In these plains they feed on the nutritious grass for a period of three months from January to March with most calves been born around February.

In April and May they stretch west across these plains and they start taking the migration to the north of Seronera. Around June the wildebeest migration is often halted on the south side of the Grumeti River, which has some channels which slow their migration north. The wildebeest then gather together there, in the Western Corridor, often building up to a high density before crossing the river. The river here is normally a series of non continuous channels and so they always signify an annual feast for the Grumeti River’s large crocodiles. However the crossing of Grumeti river is not as spectacular as the crossings of the Mara River, further miles north
The wildebeests continue moving northwards during July and August, often spreading out across a broad front: some heading through Grumeti Reserve and Ikorongo, others north through the beautiful Serengeti National Park.

September sees the herds spread out across the northern Serengeti, where the Mara River provides the migration with its most serious difficulty. This river passes through the northern Serengeti from Kenya’s Masai Mara Game Reserve. Watching the worried herds of the wildebeest migration crossing the Mara River is very magnificent; there are often scenes of great panic and confusion. Although the struggle to cross the river is great, it is familiar to see herds cross the Mara River on one day, and then back south a few days later.

By October the wildebeest herds are migrating again with more accord: all are taking the southern route, through Loliondo and the Serengeti National Park’s Lobo area, returning to the green grass which follow the rains on the short-grass plains of the southern Serengeti in November
Its however notable that the wildebeest’s journey is dictated primarily by their response to the weather; they follow the rains and the growth of new grass

Mutual – benefit relationship between Zebra and Wildebeest
Wildebeest and zebras can migrate in harmony due to the following:

  • The large group present anti-predator strategy, especially since the capture  by predators decreases when they attack larger groups
  • Gut anatomy and digestive differences improves the tolerance between the two. Zebra, a non-ruminant grazer can tolerate a wider range of grass quality than wildebeest, so when they occupy new area Zebra basically mow the whole area which helps wildebeest to feed upon soft parts of the grass
  • Wildebeests have developed sophisticated supportive behaviors, such as sleeping in turns, where some guard the other animals against a night attack by invading predators. On the other hand during the day Zebras have better hearing and seeing capabilities which helps them in sensing danger better
  • Zebras have good memories and are good travelers as they can remember the directions and watch carefully when and where to cross. Wildebeests are good in sensing water and this feature is very helpful to both the species when they are migrating in dry lands
  • Wildebeest can also listen in on the alarm calls of other species, and by doing so they reduce their risk of predation of other animals.

The spectacular crossing at Mara River

Wildebeest arrive at the Mara River in great numbers, and gather waiting to cross. Upon reaching the banks, the herbivores hesitantly take the initiative of crossing. Assumingly, they are aware of danger awaiting from the crocodiles lying low in the waters. Their great numbers come with safety but not in this case, the herd will be thinned as thousands are eaten, crushed or drowned in the river while crossing. After a number of days a courageous wildebeest will choose a crossing point, something that can vary from year to year and cannot be predicted with any accuracy. Usually the crossing point will be a calm stretch of water without too much predator. Occasionally they will choose seemingly suicidal places and drown in their hundreds. Possibly, once again, this is because crossing places are genetically imprinted in the minds of the animals.

 Migration dangers and thrill
Kills are common during the migration, especially in dusk, dawn and during the night. Many Mara Migration Safari videos have been prepared to vividly display the attacks but nothing can be compared to first hand witness of the wild attack. The mixed reactions of seeing the prey fight for its life from the jaws of lions reminds us that life is struggle in the jungle. Mostly it is empathetic to see a young one easily attacked and the struggle the mother tries to fight the predator but most often than not the mother loses the calf. For the herd, attacks come from every corner from the lions, hyenas, jackals and even the shy Leopard.

 Return to Serengeti
The short rains start by October on the Serengeti’s short-grass plains. This brings new growth of vegetation and the seasonal rivers and pools are filled with water. Eventually, after the stay in Mara reserve, the wildebeest travel south through the Eastern grasslands to the Serengeti. At this time nearly 90 per cent of the cows’ with young one spread out once again at the open plains

 Mara Migration Safaris