12 terrific truths about The Great Wildebeest Migration
12 terrific truths about The Great Wildebeest Migration
Set aside as one of the most spectacular wonders of the natural world, The Great Migration is the annual voyage made by millions of wildebeest, zebras and other game of the plains migrating clockwise to through the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Maasai Mara in Kenya in search of green pastures. It is an iconic event celebrated around the world for decades by photographers, wildlife enthusiasts and safari aficionados.
Whether it’s already on your travel list or it’s the first time you’ve heard of it, these 12 fascinating facts about the great wildebeest migration will have you wishing you were in the Maasai Mara right now.
1. It’s not just the herds of wildebeest
The Great Migration sees over 1.5 million wildebeest, 20,000 zebras, and a host of other antelope species, such as impala, elk and Thompson’s gazelles, traveling across the rolling savanna plains and the hills of East Africa. The dry season causes vegetation in the Masai Mara and Serengeti to thin out, forcing these ungulates to move in search of better grazing land and water. The journey begins around March each year, when the falling rains change the level of phosphorus and nitrogen in the air, which attracts migrating herds.
2. The baby boom is amazing
In just a few weeks, half a million wildebeest are born in the Serengeti each year between January and March, with February recording the highest calving rate of around 8,000 wildebeest born each day. The abundant new grass and fresh water are the perfect conditions for the wildebeest to give birth. The herds will stay in one area during the calving period and until the calves can stand upright, then moving north in a clockwise direction.
3. Newborn calves must learn to run in order to survive
While the wildebeest calving season means adorable sightings of wobbly babies for safaris, this is the time when herds are most vulnerable to predators as new calves are easy targets. Luckily, wildebeest usually let go of their young at midday, allowing babies to regain strength before dark. Wildebeest calves learn to run within two minutes of birth, while most human babies take between nine and 12 months to walk.
4. The journey spans hundreds of kilometers
The animals travel a total of about 800 kilometers or 497 miles in each cycle, making it the largest land migration in the world. Herds move clockwise – from the southern Serengeti, through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area to the Loliondo Game Controlled Area, then to the Grumeti Reserve. They briefly leave Tanzania to spend time in the neighboring Maasai Mara to the north, before returning south to start the journey again.
5. The ecosystem needs migration
This migration is of critical importance to the health of the region’s ecosystem. The grazing cycle allows grass to grow, be eaten, and then replenish itself as animals move to keep up with the rains. Without the natural balance of migration and consumption, the wider Masai Mara and Serengeti landscape would not look and function as it should. Additionally, wildebeests provide food for predators and scavengers that depend on migration for their survival.
6. Several tons of weed are consumed every day
A massive amount of nutrient-rich grass is needed to feed the millions of starving herbivores that traverse hundreds of miles of plains. They follow the rains in order to find the juiciest grass that will allow their species to survive and thrive. In fact, between 4,000 and 5,000 tonnes of grass are consumed per day.
7. Wildebeest and zebra depend on each other
A wonderful symbiotic relationship exists between zebras and wildebeest, which allows for the harmonious grazing and survival of both species. Wildebeests are very selective eaters and only feed on the shortest parts of the grass, while zebras are loose grazers and not so picky about the choice of grass. As the zebras graze, they shorten the grass, which makes it pleasant for the wildebeest to eat.
8. Herds work intelligently together
While migration may seem like a chaotic frenzy of movement, research shows that a herd of wildebeest possesses what is known as “swarm intelligence”. This is where collective and coordinated behavior results from the interaction of small groups of individuals with each other and their mutual environment. In the case of the wildebeest during the Great Migration, it means the willingness to systematically explore and overcome an obstacle as one.
9. It’s all about instinct, not leadership
As wildebeests do not have a natural leader, the migrating herd often splits into smaller herds that turn in slightly different directions, while still circling the main group. This usually happens when there is abundant food over a larger area as well as when crossing rivers. So even if all the herds are moving in the same direction, it is unlikely that they will be gathered in the same place at the same time.
10. New life and death are part of the cycle of nature
During the Great Migration, approximately 250,000 wildebeest and 30,000 zebras are killed each year due to predators, thirst, hunger and exhaustion. Perhaps the biggest challenge is the Mara River, which is deep, flowing quickly, and in many places surrounded by steep dikes. Sometimes the herds dive off the banks and are killed from the fall or crushed by the bulk of the panicked wildebeest trying to make it to the mainland on the other side.
11. Mara River crocodiles take a one-year fast
Although they are among the largest Nile crocodiles in Africa, those of the Mara River can wait up to a year for their next meal. Crocodiles can control their metabolism and heart rate in order to go into near-hibernation without the need for food. When the herds reach the Mara River, the crocodiles drown their prey by squeezing them in their strong jaws, then pulling and twisting them underwater.
12. Maasai Mara migratory sightings balance action and peace
Although nothing is guaranteed in nature, the best time to experience the great migration in the Maasai Mara is usually from August to November. In August and September, the exciting Mara River crossings take place, while October and November are more peaceful months as the animals are seen casually grazing on the open plains.
Calvin Cottar is director and owner of Cottar’s 1920s Safaris. Cottar’s 1920s Safaris is an award-winning 1920s luxury safari camp and private bush villa located in the famous ‘seventh’ natural wonder of the world, the Maasai Mara in Kenya, and owned and managed by the oldest family in established and continuing safaris in Africa.
If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to enhance your profile, please contact us.