Amazing Natural Phenomena: The Great Migration Of Serengeti

 Wildebeest herding and following a few leading zebra in the Masai Mara, Kenya.
Wildebeest herding and following a few leading zebra in the Masai Mara, Kenya.

Where Is The Serengeti?

Serengeti is one of the prominent ecosystems in Africa, located in northern Tanzania and stretching to southwestern Kenya. The ecosystem covers approximately 12,000 square miles while Kenya’s part of the ecosystem is called Maasai Mara. Serengeti hosts one of the largest land mammal migrations in the world securing it as one of the wonders of Africa and part of the world’s natural travel wonders. The ecosystem is incredibly diverse and is known for its large lion population. The Serengeti National Park and a host of game reserves form part of the Serengeti ecosystem. The high biodiversity in Serengeti is as a result of the diverse habitat including the riverine forest, swamps, grasslands, and woodland. Serengeti is home to an astonishing 500 species of birds and 700 species of mammals including a large wildebeest population in Tanzania. The name Serengeti is a Maasai word meaning “Endless Plain.”

Overview Of The Great Migration

The Serengeti National Park is one of the most famous national parks in the world, renowned for its magnificent pride in their natural habitat but especially known for the great migration. Every year, the Great Migration consist of 1.5 million wildebeests accompanied by over 200,000 zebras. For the wildebeest every year is an endless journey in search of rains in a race of life across 150,000 square miles of wilderness, plains, and woodlands which include the Serengeti National Park and Maasai Mara game reserve in Kenya. The great migration is considered a continuous movement of the wildebeest and zebras in an ongoing search for water and food. The great migration offers an opportunity for tourists and environmental enthusiasts to watch the cycle of life in action.

Wildebeests Of The Great Migration

The wildebeests are a genus of antelopes belonging to the family Bovidae. The wildebeests of Serengeti are of two species; the white-tailed gnu and the blue wildebeest, the latter the most common species in the national park. The two species differ regarding the structure of their horns and body coloration. The blue wildebeest is the most popular big game species in East Africa by numbers. The wildebeest species are herbivores, feeding mainly on short grass. The male wildebeests are larger than the female and can weigh up to 640 lb. The front has a heavy appearance with distinctive robust muzzle. The skin color of the wildebeest ranges from bluish gray to light gray with dark brown vertical stripes marking the areas around the neck and also at the back of the ribcage. Wildebeest possess horns shaped like parenthesis extending outwards to the sides. The horns can be as long as 33 inches for the male and 16 inches for the female. Wildebeests are extremely agile and wary and devote half of their time resting and slightly over 10% of their time walking around.

The Great Migration Pattern

The great migration by the wildebeests is a natural movement which is determined by the availability of food and water. The migration phase lasts between January and March when there is plenty of grass for the over 200,000 zebras, which precede over 1.5 million wildebeests who are then followed by thousands of other plain game like gazelles. Although the timing of the migration changes every year based on the environmental factors, the movement of the wildebeests begins at Ngorongoro Conservation area in Southern Serengeti, Tanzania. At the beginning of the year, during the rainy season between January and March, over half a million calves are born. When the rains end in May, the land dries faster due to the size of the large herds. As the rains end the wildebeests and other animals begin to move northwest to the areas around the Grumeti River temporarily settling there until June.

The crossing of both Grumeti and Mara Rivers begin at the start of July with crocodiles wait. The crossing of the rivers makes a spectacular scene that attracts tourists around the world. The wildebeest reach Kenya in late July or early August and stay there for the remaining part of the dry season while the Gazelles move eastwards. At the beginning of the short rains in early November, the journey starts towards the south again for the short plain grass. The wildebeest arrive in Ngorongoro again in December with a lot of time for calving. The journey from South Serengeti to Maasai Mara and back covers a distance of about 500 miles with 85% or more of the cycle occurring in Tanzania. Because the wildebeests have no natural leader, the herds may split up and head in different directions making the Great Migration a mega-herd surrounded by several smaller splinter herds

The Captivating Scenes Of The Great Migration

The great migration is not just a journey made by the animals from Tanzania to Kenya and back but a rare spectacular event that is unique to East Africa. The migration is characterized by unique and captivating moments like wobbling calves trying to stay on their feet but failing, increasing dense concentration of animals, “chanting” sounds by the large herd, the great battle for survival at the Grumeti and Mara Rivers between the wildebeests and the hungry crocodiles, and the chase and capture of the animals by the land preys like lion, and the trail left behind by the moving herd. Both Kenya and Tanzania provide viewing areas at different sections of the journey for the many tourists who visit the countries during the Great Migration.

The Aftermath Of The Great Migration

The journey from Southern Serengeti to Kenya and back by the wildebeests is beset with danger. Over 200,000 die during the journey while a few may wander away from the main herd into other territories. The leading causes of death are usually exhaustion, hunger, predation, and thirst. Some of the wildebeest, especially the young ones are swept away by the moving waters of the Grumeti and Mara Rivers. The main predators include the crocodiles, the big cats, and hyenas that live in the Serengeti National Park and Maasai Mara National Reserve. Some of the bold wildebeests may protect themselves from potential predators by scaring them away by their horns. However, a determined lion is rarely scared of them.


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