Mother Nature will always find the way to surprise us, having seen these creatures uninteresting in person; their united moves have managed to become the world’s spectacular spectacle and have over time since the discovery become the subject of interest in Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro conservation and Masai Mara game reserve ecosystem. This wildebeest migration has no starting; no end rather it is an endless merciless cycle of life and death.
What is the wildebeest really?
According to National Geographic; the ungainly gnu (pronounced “g-new” or simply “new”) earned the Afrikaans name wildebeest, or “wild beast,”; for the threatening appearance presented by its shaggy mane, large head, pointed beard, and sharp, curved horns. In fact, the wildebeest is well described as a reliable source of food for the actually scary predators of the African savanna; lions, wild dogs, cheetahs, and hyenas.
The wildebeest is a member of the antelope family; although its heavy build and excessively large forequarters make it look more bovine. Blue wildebeests can reach 8 feet in length, stand 4.5 feet tall at the shoulders and weigh up to 600 pounds. Both males and females grow horns.
Wildebeest lives in open woodlands or grasslands; generally, they prosper in areas that are neither too wet nor too dry and they survive on eating grass. A wildebeest can live up to 20 years old in the wild; though they have the potential to live up to 40yrs outside the wilderness where they are not hunted by predators. Wildebeest carry their pregnancies for 8.5 months until they give birth to the new calves.
Newborns are usually yellowish-brown in color and then change to adult color by 2 months old. A calf suckles from the mother for at least four months period; begins eating grasses after about 10 days’ time from its birth. Calves stay with their mother until the next year’s newborn arrives. Young females usually remain in the herds with their mothers; while males at 8months are sent away they leave their mothers and arrange peer groups.
The Wildebeest Migration
The wildebeest migration is also known as; The Great East Africa Wildebeest Migration or Serengeti migration. This is the world’s largest movement of land animals which includes more than 1.5million wildebeest in the company of; zebra, antelopes, and predators such as lions, leopards, and hyenas; who follow along for easy prey on these wonderful beasts.
What Triggers Migration?
Apparently, the Migration is triggered by the rainy seasons; where they move around following the rain from East, south, west and ultimately north of Serengeti; where the cross the border to Masai Mara Kenya through Mara river; the river filled with vicious predatory crocodiles; who take pleasure in easily acquired lunch passing their ways. This crossing phenomenon is very dramatic indeed! Despite exposing themselves to the crocodiles the wildebeest has to endure the harsh currents of Mara River to get to another side of the fence; therefore many are drowned too in the process.
The Migration Cycle Division
If you are wildebeest enthusiastic and planning to witness this world greatest natural show; then you should take into consideration of knowing their cycle and where to find the herd at the particular moment of their annual cycle; is it Serengeti, Ngorongoro or over the border in Masai Mara?
The wildebeest Migration Cycle can be divided into three most important parts;
The Calving Season
The Calving season marks the beginning of new lives among this big herd; it is the time of birthing. From February each year the heard of wildebeest with most of the heavily pregnant females start arriving in Southern Serengeti(Ndutu Area) form the eastern side of the park, that is Loliondo and Naabi hills. By mid-February, these pregnant wildebeest start giving birth.
In this period the approximate birth number of new calves in the herd is about 8000 each day, it is the period of welcoming new members of this migratory herd yet easy preying among the predators who hunt these beasts. It is the period to witness the drama of predator versus prey; hyenas snatching the new babies for their meal, lioness using the newborn calves to getting to its mother and so many wildlife dramas; it is the period of witnessing wildebeest mother defending their calves and a reminder of motherhood across all living beings.
The herd will stay on Ndutu area through March, April feeding on the nutritious grass, which is necessary for the newborn, waiting for them to gain strength to move with the herd. By May the herd starts moving slowly toward central Serengeti past Simba and Moru kopje. It is during this period the herd starts spreading and divides into groups
Facts about calving season?
- The first time wildebeest mother resents her newborn, as the result of the pain, it has caused.
- Other members of the herd form a fence around birthing mothers; to protect them and there when they are the most vulnerable, during birth making sure the majority of the newborns survive.
- The wildebeest give birth in the area with shorter grasses; so as to be able to detect and see the approaching predators.
- The calving season peak continues up to three weeks.
Check out accommodation in southern Serengeti here
The Rutting Season
The rutting season is the mating season where most wildebeest conceive and start their 8.5 months gestation period. The rutting period starts from May go on through June and July. You will hear noises everywhere in the herd, Male members fighting over their territories on female members.
By this time the newborns gain their strength and the herd begins moving in speed. By June the rain season is over and marks the beginning of dry season; therefore this migratory herd set off for more greener pasture to Masai Mara direction, passing the Mbalageti and Grumeti river on the western part of the Serengeti and some of the fastest group arrive on the Northern part of Serengeti by July end where you can start to witness the first migratory herd crossing.
The River crossing
The river crossing is when the wildebeest herd crosses the Mara River to Masai Mara game reserve in Kenya. It marks the peak of the wildebeest migration cycle. This period means even more drama to these beasts; while looking back at their previous trend you will note that all the time predators were hunting them; but here these beasts are actually the throw themselves to their hunters, the crocodiles! The crocodile pose as the greatest obstacle to unlucky migrants, the panic of crossing the river leaves other members trumped up, drowned and eaten.
The crossing drama goes on through August to late September; where most of the migratory herd are on the side of Masai Mara Kenya. The Wildebeest will stay in Masai Mara for the whole of October until the rain starts on Tanzania Serengeti side in November; where it set off again for the greener pastures in. Then the Mara River crossing again! Same drama of crossing the river again continues.
The migratory herd and accompanied partners arrive in the eastern part of Serengeti from November and continue moving forward with heavily pregnant females towards Southern Serengeti where the calving season await by mid-February again.
Suitable accommodation in North Serengeti here
Wildebeest Migration Facts
- It is the largest movement of animals overland in the whole wide world
- It contains more than 1.5 million wildebeest and more than 200,000 zebras who are the close migratory companion
- Wildebeest and Zebras co-exist because they eat the same grasses but different parts, while zebras prefer the taller grass; the wildebeest eats only the shoots.
- Around 250,000 wildebeest and 30,000 zebra do not make it to another side of the Mara River; as a result of predation by carnivores, but also from exhaustion thirst and hunger.
- More than 3000 lions in Serengeti follow the migration cycle
- According to research, the herds of wildebeests possess ‘swarm intelligence’; where the beasts carefully explore and overcome their obstacles as one.
- Between January and March, almost half a million wildebeest are born each year; the phenomena takes its peak during February; whereas the population of 8,000 calves is born each day for about the period three weeks.
- The migrations take part mostly on Tanzania Serengeti and Ngorongoro side and only spend about a month in Masai Mara Kenya.
The great East Africa wildebeest migration is sure a sight not to be missed when you embark on your wildlife safari in Tanzania or Kenya. There a considerable number of the luxury tented lodge that follows the migration cycle too. Therefore The Great East Africa migration may not only be for wildebeests, zebras, and gazelles, but it is also for lodges too; all these to make sure every person who comes for the wildebeest experience is also touched by classic hospitality and comfort that is found in the wilderness.
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