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The Great Migration In Maasai Mara

Hooves Across the Horizon: The Great Migration

wildebeest migration Kairi Tours and Safaris The wildebeest migration in East Africa is one of the most remarkable natural events on the planet. Every year, around 1.5 million wildebeest, along with thousands of zebras and other grazers, embark on a journey that spans over 1,800 miles across the vast savannahs of the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Masai Mara in Kenya forming the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem. The Serengeti ecosystem in Tanzania is home to the largest population of large mammals and consists of vast plains, woodlands, rivers, and rocky outcrops, providing diverse habitats for a wide variety of wildlife driven by the search for fresh grass and water, essential for their survival. Adjacent to the Serengeti lies the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. The Mara is characterized by open grasslands, dotted with acacia trees and crossed by rivers, making it an ideal habitat for herbivores and predators alike.

The migration journey begins in the Serengeti, where the wildebeest gather in massive herds. As the dry season approaches and the grasslands start to wither, they instinctively begin their northward trek towards the Maasai Mara. This migration follows a circular route dictated by the changing seasons and the availability of food and water. The most iconic and dramatic phases occur between July and October. During this time, vast herds of wildebeest, zebra, and other grazers move between the Serengeti and the Maasai Mara in search of fresh grazing lands and water.

Along the way, the wildebeest face numerous obstacles and dangers. They must navigate treacherous rivers infested with crocodiles, endure harsh weather conditions, and evade predators like lions, cheetahs, and hyenas. The crossing of the Mara River is one of the most dramatic and perilous parts of their journey, with crocodiles lying in wait for the unsuspecting herds.

Despite the challenges, the migration continues year after year, a testament to the resilience and adaptability of these incredible animals. The wildebeest play a crucial role in the ecosystem, not only as prey for predators but also as seed dispersers and nutrient recyclers.

The wildebeest migration is a spectacle that attracts tourists from around the world, drawn by the opportunity to witness nature in its purest form. It’s a reminder of the interconnectedness of all living things and the beauty and wonder of the natural world.

             Fun Facts about Wildebeest

Appearance

With their distinctive appearance, wildebeest are often described as having the body of a buffalo, the legs of an antelope, and the head of a horse. Their unusual appearance has made them a subject of fascination for wildlife enthusiasts. Wildebeest have a unique appearance with a large, boxy head, a beard-like mane, and curved horns. Their bodies are compact and muscular, adapted for endurance and speed during migration

Types of species

Wildebeest are often called “gnu,” which comes from the Khoikhoi language, referring to the sound they make. It’s a deep, resonant “gnu” or “nguu” sound that they emit, hence the name. There are two species of wildebeest: the blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) and the black wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou). The blue wildebeest is the most common and widespread species, found in East and Southern Africa, while the black wildebeest is native to Southern Africa.

Annual Migration

The annual migration of wildebeest is driven by the search for greener pastures and water sources. This cyclical movement follows a clockwise pattern between the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and the Maasai Mara Reserve in Kenya, covering vast distances over the course of the year. As mentioned earlier, wildebeest migration covers approximately 1,800 miles (2,900 kilometers) each year.

Births

Wildebeest exhibit synchronized calving, where the majority of females give birth within a short time frame, typically within a two- to three-week period, usually during the rainy season. This strategy overwhelms predators and decreases the chances of survival for the vulnerable calves. However, it also attracts predators to the area during this time.

Social Behavior

Wildebeest are known for forming enormous herds, especially during migration. These herds can consist of tens of thousands to even over a million individuals, making them one of the largest gatherings of land animals on Earth making them social animals. Within these herds, they exhibit interesting social behaviors, such as grooming each other and engaging in playful activities like jumping and running. Their social structure also plays a role in their migration patterns and survival strategies.

Ecological Role

Wildebeest are grazers, feeding primarily on grasses. Their grazing behavior helps maintain the health and diversity of grasslands by preventing the dominance of any single plant species. By consuming grasses, they create openings in the vegetation, which promotes the growth of new grass shoots and encourages the proliferation of other plant species. Wildebeest also contribute to nutrient cycling in the ecosystem through their dung. As they graze, they deposit feces rich in nutrients onto the ground. These nutrients, including nitrogen and phosphorus, fertilize the soil and promote the growth of plants. Wildebeest dung also provides food for dung beetles and other decomposers, which further break down organic matter and release nutrients into the soil.

Vocalizations

Wildebeest are known for their deep, guttural vocalizations, which include grunts, snorts, and low-pitched calls. These vocalizations serve various purposes, such as communication within the herd, warning of danger, and maintaining social bonds.

Prey-Predator Dynamics:

Wildebeest are preyed upon by a variety of predators, including lions, hyenas, cheetahs, and crocodiles. Their migration exposes them to numerous dangers, particularly during river crossings, where they face the risk of predation by crocodiles.  However, their large numbers and collective behavior enhance their chances of survival against predators. Wildebeest form a significant part of the prey base, whereby large herds of wildebeest attract predators from far and wide, supporting healthy populations of carnivores and maintaining the balance of predator-prey dynamics in the ecosystem.

wildebeest migration map Kairi Tours and Safaris

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