Love of travel is not only a monopoly of the human race. There are so many creatures of the animal kingdom, both big and small, which have been fascinating us with a similar wanderlust spirit for millennia. Each year they have been known to undertake long arduous journeys by land, sea and air, without any navigation tools, in search of food, shelter and mating opportunities.
A prime example is the Great Wildebeest migration of East Africa, undoubtedly the most sought after wildlife spectacle in the world. Just in case an African safari is on your agenda, here are some compelling reasons to make sure that this constantly moving spectacle stays right on top of your bucket list. Several best safari holidays in the world offer this experience as part of their itinerary to the African bush.
THE SHOW IS ALWAYS ON
If you want to witness the migration you don’t have to worry about a curbed schedule. The wildebeest wander throughout the year in a predictable pattern. Since the movement is entirely dependent on rainfall, the herds arrive on the Serengeti plains first during November and December. They stay here till March and start their great migration north in April.
By May they move west and around June they collect in high density along the Grumeti river to attempt the first crossing. In July and August the wildebeest move through the heart of Serengeti till they reach their stiffest hurdle – the Mara river.
After many frantic attempts they get across. From September, the herds stay in the Mara game reserve right up to October, from where they begin their return journey to the short grass plains of Serengeti to arrive by November.
LARGEST MOVEMENT OF ANIMALS ON THE PLANET
The African wildebeest migration is the largest congregation of animals anywhere else in the world. Seeing this large mass of moving animals is unlike any other natural phenomenon. Over 1.5 million wildebeest, nearly 200,000 zebra and large herds of impalas, elands and antelope, not to forget the predators stalking them can be seen covering a round trip of nearly 3000 km each year.
STELLAR PHOTOGRAPHS GUARANTEED
Wildlife photography during the Great Migration offers incredible opportunities for taking award winning images. The anticipation of potential interaction with the big cats and other predators raises the tension levels in an attempt to capture the actual drama on film. The stalk, the chase, the final lunge and eventually the feeding, makes not only good game viewing but potentially great wildlife shots as well. For both the amateur and professional camera buffs, the migration allows for excellent big cat and migrating wildebeest shots.
WITNESS THE BABY SEASON
Most people imagine that the Great Migration is all about stampeding herds attempting to cross the raging rivers with crocodiles in hot pursuit. To some extent it may be true, but the amazing baby season, when upto 8000 calves are born in a single day, is what many visitors overlook.
During the months of January and February, as soon as the rains begin, the herds start leaving Serengeti. Within two to three weeks of this movement an estimated half a million babies are born, mainly around the Ngorongoro Conservation Area where the soil is nutritious at this time of the year. Not surprisingly, the wobbly legs attract predators in large numbers and the protective mothers do everything in their power to thwart the hungry prowlers, leading to scenes more unusual than the river crossings.
HOT AIR BALLOON EXPERIENCE
Hot air ballooning is common around the world, but the hour long flight which takes place at sunrise over the African plains gives an altogether new perspective to wildlife viewing. Watch the long lines of moving herds as you float across the savannah with the only sound being the wind blowing through your ears. When you finally descend, a bottle of champagne and a gourmet breakfast is waiting for you in the bush.
CONTEND WITH CROCS AND SCAVENGERS
The Mara river crossing is said to be one of the most dramatic wildlife experience in the world. Hundreds of wildebeest plunge into the river to try and get across safely. In their endeavours they not only have to negotiate the strong currents, but also avoid the jaws of the huge Nile crocodiles who have been lying in wait for nearly a year. Once the carcasses pile up, hyenas, jackals, vultures, birds of prey and every conceivable scavenger under the African sun converge to feed on the remains. Fights over the scraps are common but provide fantastic inter species conflict visuals.
SEE BEYOND THE MIGRATION
There is no denying the fact that even if a single wildebeest doesn’t attempt the river crossing, the building up of emotion and anticipation can be equally thrilling. Thankfully there is lot more drama waiting to unfold beyond the actual migration itself.
The Mara and Serengeti region is home to vast herds of elephants, pods of hippo playing in the pools, massive crocodiles and some of the largest prides of lions to be found in Africa. Then there is the leopard, water buffalo and rhinoceros to complete the big five. Wildlife photographers, film makers and royal families alike flock here to witness the unsurpassed views of game watching like never before.
CAMP IN THE HEART OF WILDERNESS
The Great Migration routes pass through some of the most remote regions of Africa, like the Lamai River and the Mara triangle. The best way to enjoy the fabulous landscape and witness the migration is by choosing to stay in a place which offers perfect viewing and limited crowds.
Though the migration route may change every year, it is not possible to pinpoint the suitable one. An option is to stay in a mobile tented camp, which is moved around every time to line up with the actual migration route for a more immersive experience. There are many noteworthy safari camps in Serengeti and Masai Mara that offer incredible luxury in the middle of the African bush. Remember, luxury is a matter of taste, so it is advisable to consult a safari expert for an itinerary to tailor this trip of a lifetime.
Witnessing the sheer abundance of wildebeest in motion casts a magical spell, both on the eyes and on the mind. This long distance trek of millions of hoofed grazers, pushing their levels of endurance for survival, is certain to leave you in awe. Even though scientists have managed to shed some light on many of these captivating journeys, it is evident that we still have a lot to discover.
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