The Annual Migration of the Wildebeest
It’s known as the ‘Greatest Wildlife Show on Earth’ by some; and as the ‘Seventh Natural Wonder of the World’ by others. But whatever you call it – the annual migration of the wildebeest is one of the most awe-inspiring, dramatic and tragi-comic sights you will ever see.
Sometime, between the end of July and the mid- to end-of November, over one-and-a-half million wildebeest accompanied by half again as many zebras and gazelles, will begin their migrations from the short-grass plains of the Serengeti to the fresh green pastures of the Masai Mara and its conservancies. And in so doing, they create one of nature's grandest spectacles.
Moving in groups of up to 20,000 at a time, the great blue-black river of galloping wildebeest thunder across the plateau, drawn by the scent of fresh grass. Arriving at the steep banks of the Mara they hurl themselves frantically into its churning waters, and many fall prey to the open jaws of the waiting crocodiles.
Towards the end of October, as the Serengeti beckons, the herds begin crossing back into Tanzania. The actual timing of the migration, however, is dictated by the weather and does not always run to schedule.
The Loita Migration
As well as witnessing every stage of the Great Migration, which is a constantly revolving theatre of birth, life and death that takes place throughout the year, the Olare Motorogi Conservancy hosts its own migration. The Loita Migration is a relatively modern phenomenon, and promises a much more intimate viewing experience than that of its massive cousin. The herds move (around January) from the Loita Plains, across the Mara, and into the Ol Kinyei Conservancy. The calving takes place there during February and March. Then the wildebeest gather together, and career across the Olare Motorogi Conservancy, creating great braids of blue-black as they gallop back into the Masai Mara National Reserve again.
1. While the migration may seem like a chaotic frenzy of movement, research has shown that a herd of wildebeest possess what is known as ‘swarm intelligence’, whereby the wildebeest systematically explore and overcome an obstacle as one entity.
2. The reason why zebras and wildebeest graze in harmony together is because they each eat different parts of the same type of grass.
3. Some 500,000 wildebeest calves are born in February and March of every year. Weighing up to 22kg at birth, they learn to walk within minutes. At maturity, a wildebeest can run at up to 80 kph per hour
4. The blue wildebeest is a large antelope that gets its name from the silvery blue sheen of its hide. Looking rather as if a can of paint has been emptied over it, it has shaggy festoons of black hair that tumbles from its head and along its back.
5. Because wildebeest have no natural leader, the migrating herd often splits up into smaller herds that circle the main, mega-herd, going in different directions.
6. The crocodiles awaiting the herds in the Mara River drown their prey by clutching them in their strong jaws and pulling them below the water, twisting them to break off bite-size pieces. A crocodile can lunge more than half of its body length out of the water to grab a potential victim and can also use its tail as a secondary weapon.