The Great Migration
The extraordinary annual Great Migration of wildebeest and other grazing herbivores across the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem is one of the greatest spectacles in the natural world. Over two million herbivores partake in this journey, with about 200,000 zebra and 500,000 Thomson's gazelle behind 1.5 million wildebeest! They join other resident populations that feature topi, impala, African buffalo, grant's gazelle, kongoni, giraffe, warthog, waterbuck, and elephant. And then, a hungry constellation of predators including lions, hyenas, cheetahs, leopards, wild dogs, and jackals, as well as every scavenger of the area, wait impatiently for their share of the banquet.
The Great Migration is a relatively recent phenomenon, dating back to the early 1960s. In the late 19th century a rinderpest epidemic eliminated over 90% of the wildebeest and cattle in the region. To prevent a further spreading of the disease, cattle was inoculated and the disease soon disappeared from the area. As a result, the wildebeest population boomed to the 1.4 million individuals. The growing herds were thus forced to migrate in their search for water and grazing grassland, starting the circular migratory route.
If you're planning a photographic safari to anywhere in the Serengeti ecosystem, make sure you coincide with the wildebeest migration.
The mega-herd gathers on the southern Serengeti plains (Serenora Valley) to feed on the lush short grass left after the November short rains. The animals calve here for approx. 3 months.
The calving season is well underway. There are baby animals everywhere! Baby elephants, baby zebra, baby cheetah, baby lion...Calving peaks at the start of February.
The long rains soon end. The herds move on in a staggered fashion. Some depart sooner than others until they merge again into one mega-herd.
Many of the herds will pass the Mara River by this month. Some will cross backwards and forwards several times in their continual search for better grazing.
Hundreds of thousands herds march into Masai Mara. Game is rich and abundant, allowing for spectacular sightings. Witness the excitement from a beautifully situated overlook over the vast, game-filled grasslands.
Massive herds of wildebeests, zebras and other animals gather at Masai Mara until storms form again. Herds can also be found in northern Serengeti where it is contingent with Masai Mara.
The mega-heard remains in the southern Serengeti plains until April, peacefully grazing the short grass, allowing their calves enough time to gain their strength. The herds will only start moving north when their calves are strong enough for the journey. There are plenty of predators lurking around, taking full advantage of easy pickings.
The mega-herd slowing marches towards the northwest in search of food, following the long rains of the central Serengeti plains towards the Western Corridor and the Grumeti River. The Western Corridor provides perfect grazing conditions after the long rains.
The world famous Grumeti River Crossing usually happens in June. The large herds gather at the Western Corridor before heading north towards Keyna's Masai Mara. We will go to a vantage point to view thousands of wildebeests and zebras trying to avoid the snapping jaws of Nile crocodiles while they cross the river.
The land dries out. The herds wander the northern Serengeti for greener pastures. Some will arrive at the Mara River and will brave a terrifying crossing before reaching the grasses of Masai Mara.
As short rains begin in northern Tanzania, the bulk of the mega herds begin to move south returning to the Lobo region of the Serengeti. At this point, the instinct to move to the southern short-grass plains is strong and the herds may move very fast. Some will travel down the east of Serengeti and some through Serenora and central part of the park.
And then the entire circle starts all over again! The herds follow the rains through the southern Serengeti plains just in time for the calving season to begin once more.