The Great Migration is one of the most spectacular wonders of the world! Every year, millions of herbivores move roughly clockwise throughout Tanzania’s Serengeti plains and Kenya’s Maasai Mara grasslands, following the rains in search of green pastures and drinking water. Not only is it the world’s largest concentrated movement of wildlife, but also the longest in distance; the wildebeest travel over 1,800 miles on their 9 month journey. Here are some things that you might not know about this incredible event:
- The Great Migration is made up of not only 2 million wildebeest, but also 200,000 zebra and a small number of Grant’s gazelle, Thompson’s gazelle, eland and impala.
- 500,000 wildebeest calves are born each year in the Southern Serengeti at the commencement of the yearly migration cycle, between January and March. Most calves are however born in mid-February. Approximately 8,000 wildebeest calves are born on a daily basis for about three weeks. What is most amazing is that the calves are able to walk as soon as they are born, hence can keep up with the herds! Amazing isn’t it?
- The Great Migration is the longest and largest overland migration in the world, with the herds travelling a total of 800 kilometers (500 miles), or more during each cycle. It is not a singular event-it’s a yearlong cycle, a voyage driven by the search for food and water. In November-December, the herds arrive on the plains of Serengeti, where they remain through March. Slowly, the masses begin moving west across the grasslands and begin the migration North around April. May through August the herds continue travelling northward. Around mid-August through September, the wildebeest face their greatest challenge, The Mara River Crossing, a truly fascinating spectacle. By October they reverse their journey, following the rains southward, with more grace to reach the Southern Serengeti once again.
- Wildebeests have no natural leader and therefore the herds split up into smaller herds that circle the main, mega-herd, going in different directions. When considering these smaller, split herds the whole migration can cover over half of the whole Serengeti.
- While having the appearance of a confused frenzy, recent research has shown that the herds of wildebeests usually possess what is known as “swarm intelligence”, where the animals systematically explore and overcome an obstacle as one.
- The zebra and wildebeest have forged a natural friendship, their relationship being symbiotic and for this reason, they never part ways. Although they feed off the same type of plant, the zebra and wildebeest actually eat different parts of the plant, allowing them to graze amicably. During the migration, zebras take the role of protector and navigator- they keep the herd on course and also remain on the lookout for predators. In exchange, the wildebeest help the zebra (and themselves) find water. Wildebeest have a keen ability to sniff out water and so, the pack is able to find water nearly every day of their journey.
- During the migration, about 250,000 wildebeest and 30,000 zebras are killed. This is the result of predation by carnivores, thirst, hunger, exhaustion as well as crushes and drowning in the stampede at the river crossing.
- There are more than 3,000 lions living is the Serengeti ecosystem. Some of them follow and prey upon the migrating herds.
- During the river crossing, the Nile crocodiles await the herds in the Mara River. They drown their prey by clutching them in their strong jaws and pulling them below the water, and twisting them so as to break them to bite-size pieces. Crocodiles are deadly predators which can lunge more than half of their body length out of the water to grab a potential prey. They can also use their heavy tails as a secondary weapon.
- The wildebeest’s odd appearance is explained by an ancient African legend which holds that God created it using leftover spare parts.
- The wildebeests are one of the only African antelope species to increase in population size. In 1960, there were an estimated 250,000 wildebeest and today there are over 1.5 million.
- The Serengeti National Park eco-system is the oldest on the planet. It boasts a diversity of plants and animals that is unavailable anywhere else in the globe.
Witness the scenic spectacle of the Great Migration on tour with Gidtor Travel Diaries.