Wildebeest Migration Wonder…
One of the wonders of the world – the great wildebeest migration marvel – happens across the Masai Mara National Reserve and the Serengeti National Park. The migration is the heart of the safari high season. The mooing herds of over 1 million wildebeest and about 300,000 zebra arrive in the Masai Mara from Serengeti and life is never the same. Hundreds of cameras click away to capture the migration movement. The hunters – lion, leopard, cheetah, and hyena know that the search for prey will be “a walk in the park”. Vultures follow the migration and stay with the migration. The crocodiles in the Mara River – they give the wildebeest a most unwelcome welcome.
It is in search of greener pastures that the Gnu/wildebeest migrate yearly. The 1,510 km2 Masai Mara National Reserve is located south west of Kenya – bordering Serengeti in Tanzania. The greater Masai Mara ecosystem made up of the Masai Mara National Reserve and the surrounding pastoral ranches is 5,500 km2 – with the ranches covering a total of 4,000 km2. The wildebeest migrate between the Masai Mara and Serengeti in search of rich pasture. The wildebeest travel time and travel route is never exactly the same. From the start of the year to the month of June/July the wildebeest are found in Serengeti where the calves are born within the first three months of the year. Wildebeest mate and later calve within the same duration. It is believed that as many as 400,000 calves are born and are strong enough to embark on the migration journey to the Masai Mara by June each year.
Once in Kenya, gnu may cross the 396 km long Mara River at different points. There are several crossing points such as around Mara Serena Safari Lodge within the Masai Mara National Reserve. Sometimes, the wildebeest have crossed upstream of the Mara Bridge. This year (2015) I have witnessed them cross at the Sand River – one of the tributaries of the Mara River. The Mara River not only sustains a huge variety of wildlife but is also home to one of the largest reptiles – the Nile crocodile.
The Mara River crossing is what many do not like to miss. When the water is fierce and deep, the banks steep, and the wildebeest are gathered at the edge fidgeting, the apprehension is pulsating. All the more if the crocodiles are lying in wait – hiding in the water – with only their ears, eyes, and nose visible above. It takes one “courageous” wildebeest to plunge in for the others to follow. Even one pushed in unwillingly by the herd will do. As they endeavor to cross, some wildebeest fall prey to the crocodiles, some drown, some break limbs. Making a clean break for the other side can be said to be a matter of luck. However, not all crossings are dangerous.
For four to five months the wildebeest occupy the Masai Mara plains, grazing in mixed herds with the zebra and other plains game. Thousands of wildebeest are known to also migrate into the Masai Mara from Loita area almost at the same time as the Serengeti herds. During this time there are countless occasions to see the carnivores stalk and capture quarry.
By the time they leave for Serengeti in the months of October/ November, the wildebeest have lived up to their title – the grass mowers of the Mara. They do leave behind lots of dung fertilizer to restore the grasslands though. The splendor of the Masai Mara does not dim with departure of the migrating stars. What with over 80 mammal species (including the majestic Big Five) and over 500 spectacular bird species still to savor all year through.
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