Serengeti & The Mara: The land known worldwide for the migration of mammal

Matias Carrillat

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Every year, in Serengeti, the Great Migration takes place in the natural border between Tanzania and Kenya, an event in which millions of wildebeest, zebras, and gazelles move along these lands in a marvelous spectacle. In this note, we share how the process works and why it is worth experiencing it.

The Great Migration

Although when we talk about the Great Migration we make reference especially to the scene representing the major action, the phenomenon does not end there: it is a cycle that develops throughout the year. It is about these species being forced to move constantly  due to climate variations that have an impact on the territory that provides their food. There is no specific date for this migration to take place but it is possible to make a very precise distinction of the stages in which every part of the process develops due to rain patterns. Today we will tell you some more about this exclusive wonder of the African nature.

January and February: when life blossoms

Although there are no specific beginning and end, we can say that everything starts with the birth of wildebeests. At the end of January and during February, herds of these species concentrate in the area limiting with Tanzania, at the north of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and at the south of the Serengeti National Park. Here, we will be able to witness the first event worth contemplating: in a few weeks, all the offsprings of the year are born. During this stage, nearly 8,000 offspring per day are born. Therefore, if you decide to go on a safari throughout this area on this season, you need to embark on the experience Serengeti: The land known worldwide for the migration of mammal, where you will have high chances of sighting herds of wildebeests, not to mention giraffes amid bushes, as well as zebras or even hyenas and jackals in their natural environment.

 

The biological synchronization allows the young to grow and survive together with the wild and active life that awaits them in the following months. In the same way, the site chosen is no coincidence: the fertility of the plain lands of Ndutu and the humid weather, typical of these areas, offer an ideal environment for the young to grow strong and safe. It is at this point that we understand that the wonderful thing about this is not watching it but learning nature’s intelligence.

March, April and May: the transition

As time passes by and the grass is consumed, the herds take on new roads, both for the insatiable hunger of the new inhabitants and the progressive draught of the territory. This happens around March and April, when the animals perceive the arrival of rains in the northern area, near Lake Victoria. And this where they will go to commence the mating season.

 

Then, in May, the humid season ends in that region, which indicates the beginning of the great adventure. The incandescent sun dries the savannah and, given that not even one drop falls during weeks, rivers and water wells dry to their last drop. Therefore, the fauna that depended on this water has no choice but to move forward looking for food. This is a good month to embark on a safari in the National Park of Serengeti, in Tanzania, since we will be able to see the first movements of animals in great herds. In that moment, the arduous and long journey for these species in the search of fresh grass and clean water begins.

June and July: the action begins

The peak of this Great Migration occurs in the months of June and July. During this period, herbivores undertake a journey of more than 3,000 kilometers over the vast plains in which up to 4,000 tons of grass are consumed per day. Around one and a half million wildebeest and 750,000 zebras, along with a smaller number of Grant’s gazelles, Thomson’s gazelles, elands and impalas, start a journey marked by risks and sense of adventure. And we, photographic predators, want to go after them.

 

Reaching the west limit of the country, the groups of animals meet over the great natural border that divides Tanzania and Kenya, the Mara River. And so it begins, this spectacular show. But not everything in the garden is rosy. For the migrating species, this journey entails a survival challenge: crossing the waters is not an easy task due to the depths of the river and the streams that take a toll on them, and especially, the crocodiles that await anxious at this time of the year to hunt their prey. This is why this process is not a one-day task but a journey that takes months. 

 

The crowds of wildebeests that gather at the bed of the river are immersed in a contradictory feeling: a state of panic but also urgency that make them doubt when facing the challenge. This is the best season to visit the Maasai Mara Park, since we will surely find thousands of animals galloping along the plains, while predators reveal themselves while hunting the many prey that this phenomenon provides them. 

 

Watching in silence these herds of herbivores doubtfully wandering by the river is a thrilling experience. We can even feel the fear and pent-up energy that this natural scenario emits, a spectacle that seems to have been taken from a documentary. If we coincide in space and time, we will be able to see how they go back and forward from the savannah to the riverline over and over again until they have the courage to finally cross towards more fertile lands. 

 

However, herbivores lose protagonism when predators enter the scene. By the river shore, lions, hyenas, and leopards wait for these trembling animals to be off-guard while they try to cross the river. And, among reeds and areas covered with mud, crocodiles pride themselves on having a guaranteed hunt as they prey on the weakest and slowest species that dare to cross the waters.

 

Whether it is for hunger, the impious river currents, or for the predators, approximately 5% of the species migrating die every year. But what is fascinating is that, among all that chaos and desperation, we will be able to see those who made it through adversity and reach the other shore. Just as if we were watching a live movie, we start to feel relieved when we see this victorious accomplishment. 

August and September: peace reigns again.

In the months following this great movement, we make sure that all herds have made it to the other side. This is when wildlife abounds more than ever in the Maasai Mara National Park, making it the perfect time to go on safaris along the reserve.

October: show must go on

Although at first it seems to be paradise in comparison to the drought they run from, the Maasai Mara is not the ideal place to satisfy the hunger of these numerous migratory species.The extension of this reserve is lesser than that of the Serengeti, there, grass and water supplies run out quickly due to the new inhabitants. This is why, once again, wildebeests, together with their herbivores partners, resume their journey in the search of new lands to graze. This usually starts in October, when they start to move towards the northern area of the Serengeti.

November and December: everything starts again.

In the last months of the year, the short rains begin again in the Serengeti, drawing this restless fauna once again to continue its course towards the east until they completely cover the park. There they will disperse for a short season until, finally, the biological clock leads them towards the plains where the migratory cycle (and life) begins again.

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