The Migration; over a million Wildebeest, Zebra and Thomson’s Gazelles continually strive for sustenance on the Serengeti Plains. The annual migration of these animals does not follow a set time and route, however an educated guess can lead you to what is considered by many to be the greatest show on earth.
One of the wildebeest’s favourite haunts is the short grassy plains of the southern Serengeti. It is here during February and well into March that several hundred thousand calves are born, an event intensified by the numerous predators that wait in anticipation in the wings. As the area’s resources are gradually exhausted the herds will move away from these hallowed plains as late as they can with plans to return as soon as possible.
The routes taken by the herds are not well worn pathways with last year’s hoof prints to lead the way, they are ever changing. Millions of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle go forwards, backwards, to the sides, they mill around, split up, join forces, walk in a line, in groups, they spread out, and often they just hang around.
One can never predict with certainty where the migration will be and when; the best you can do is draw on past experience.
From May onwards, the short rains subside and the vegetation begins to recede. The southern and eastern area of the Serengeti is no longer the best location for a growing herd, and the exodus starts with a few hundred wildebeest taking their first steps towards the northern and western plains in search of lush pastures and a more dependable water source.
By early July the first wildebeest could already have reached the Mara River, ready to brave the crocodiles laying in waiting for them to cross into Kenya’s Masai Mara National Park. Not all of the herd cross the river. Some remain in the Serengeti. Some cross and – as if tempting fate – re-cross again for no apparent reason. However, the majority of the wildebeest, zebra and gazelle will reside in the Mara until October, when it is inevitably time to head back.
The infamous crossing of the Mara river buy large numbers of the migrating herds is elusive, rapid and unforgettable. The wildebeest almost show a fear of the river, it is clear that they are aware a danger lurks beneath the surface. The herd will mill around and procrastinate contentedly until some subliminal trigger ignites a sudden outbreak of mayhem and a chaotic free for all begins. Hundreds of clambering legs kick out as they stampede, stumble and fall down the banks into the river below.
The majority are lucky and the relative safety of numbers has helped in their plight of the river crossing. They struggle out of the river the other side, wet, relieved and unscathed by the hundreds of crocodiles that decide the fate of many. Others are not so fortunate and will not be returning to their birthing grounds in the south.