- July 20, 2023
- Posted by: Love Uganda Love Uganda
- Category: Blog
A complete guide to the great wildebeest migration in Kenya and Tanzania
Every year, millions of wildebeests run hundreds of kilometers in the wilderness and savannah plains of Tanzania and Kenya. The wildebeest Migration in Kenya and Tanzania is the largest exhibition of animal migratory behavior to ever exist. From time immemorial, researchers, photographers, and tourists have been attracted to the magical plains of Serengeti national park Tanzania) and Masai Mara national park (Kenya). There are quite a number of interesting stories and experiences concerning the great wildebeest migration. Wildebeests are social animals and thus stay and move in groups/herds.
In this article, you will know what the wildebeests are, how the movement goes throughout the year, and what you need to have a best wildebeest migration experience in both Kenya and Tanzania. We believe that when you get acquainted with this knowledge before traveling to these amazing safari destinations, you will have the best experience ever.
Visit East Africa and experience the world’s greatest animal migration
The journey starts all the way in the southern parts of Serengeti national park in Tanzania and then goes northwards via the Ngoro Ngoro crater up to Masai Mara national park in Kenya. These animals are guided by instincts and the desire for fresh green grass as well as water for drinking. It is important to note that this migration is not for just wildebeests but rather accompanies by thousands of Zebras, Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelles and other hunters whose appetite can only be satisfied by blood – the lions, hyenas and leopards.
Not only do herbivores believe that the grass is always greener the other side but also carnivores that entirely depend on these herbivores. Hundreds of deaths happen according to the law of natural selection – only the strong survive.
On the other hand, thousands of new lives are born and they multiply and that how ecosystems strikes a balance between the eaters and the ones being eaten.
What is the great wildebeest migration?
From a lay man’s language or understanding, the great wildebeest migration is simply the movement of over one million wildebeests accompanies by thousands of gazelles and zebras plus other animal species from one destination to another. In East Africa to be specific, this movement happens in the savannah plains of Serengeti national park and Masai Mara national park in Tanzania and Kenya respectively. This migration does not happen over one night but rather throughout the year.
The migration happens under the watch of predators like lions, hyenas, leopards as well as scavenger birds who do the cleaning of the park by eating remains of the kill. The amazing part of this movement comes with the difficulties encountered by these animals as they cross the crocodile invested river – the Mara River. At this stage, factors like patience, strength, perseverance, speed, etc. determine whether you eat or you be eaten. It is here that you can testify that the law of survival or the fittest is realistic.
What is the scientific name of wildebeest?
The wildebeest, also called gnu, is an antelope of the genus Connochaetes and is native to East and Southern Africa. They belong to the Bovidae family, which includes true antelopes, cattle, goats, sheep, and other two-toed ungulates.
They were named wildebeests by the Dutch in South Africa which meant “Wild beasts” as an explanation of their untamed nature.
How heavy is a wildebeest?
An adult wildebeest measures between 45 and 55 inches at the shoulder and weighs between 300 and 600 pounds. They also measure between 5 and 8 feet in length and have a tail length of 14 to 22 inches.
What is the gestation period for wildebeest? Reproduction in wildebeests
One of the best seasons to visit the wildebeests is during the mating season also known as the rut. It is during this period that most travelers enjoy seeing mounting, fighting of bulls, and marking of territories. During the rut season, about 200 or 150 wildebeests form groups and become distinct from the major group / herds. In these groupings, 5 or 6 of the most dominant bulls create and guard territories that cows amble through. As assign of ownership of a particular territory, male wildebeests make a show of bucking and cantering around their lands. They mark territories by urinating, defecating and spreading secretions in a given area. The bulls wear gloomy faces while facing fellow bulls but the faces become a little romantic at the sight of a female counterpart.
Mating starts with making close contacts, usually it is the bull that makes the first move. Not every attempt made by the bull is acknowledged by female wildebeests. Females want to offer themselves to stronger and leaders of the herd. An agreement is accepted when the female becomes calm and allows a bull to mount on her. The bull will do the mounting repeatedly. In the event that the female wildebeest is on heat, it can be mounted by more than five bulls a day. Each bull makes a number of mounts at an interval of about five minutes. This can be a sparking factor for a fight to begin between the male wildebeests.
Frequent calls, fights and walks from side to side are common among wildebeests during the season of mating. And bulls usually think of mating when they have fully eaten grass and drunk enough water and when there are no signs of threats from lions and other enemies. The bulls take care of specific groups of wildebeests. They also herd them for almost a full day as a sign of dominance, care and superiority. The bulls go extreme – as far as not eating as they concentrate on stopping other bulls from invading their small groups.
Female wildebeests are somewhat energetic and they have a high fertility rate. That is why they conceive easily and give birth and the species are maintained that way. The rate at which they produce must double the rate at which they are eaten. Female wildebeests usually reach sexual maturity at the 16th month, though they frequently do not mate until around the 28th month.
With a gestation period of 8 to 8.5 months, wildebeest are unique from other African animals in that they calve within the same short span of time, during the month before or start of peak rainy season. The females usually give birth to one calf and the distinguishing feature from other antelope species is that, wildebeest give birth in the middle of the herd. The majority if not the rest of antelope species give birth in isolation. Wildebeests use this technique as a security measure against lions, hyenas, leopards, etc. since they are stronger in unison.
Surprisingly, around 80% of females in a given heard of wildebeests give birth within the same two to three weeks. This is one of the reasons why this species of antelopes has survived for centuries irrespective of the deadly predation by carnivores. Mothers lick calves straight away from 1 second old until when they are strong enough to stand. The mother wildebeests stays closer to baby wildebeest to protect it from being stepped unto by the large numbers of adults surrounding it. The baby will suckle her mother for like one month or two until it is ready to start eating grass.
Suckling will continue for up to 8 months. It is now ready to from a peer group and live on her own. The mother’s milk is nutritious and can sustain the calf until it can feed on grass. The baby will follow its mother right away since they are always on the go. It is not common for wildebeest mothers to lose their calves irrespective of the large numbers. Female calves are fond of staying in their mothers’ herd. Unlike, males are sent away either forcefully by their fathers or by their love for adventure and exploration.
Calves are usually born in the months of January and February.
Do wildebeests eat the same grass during the great migration? – The feeding habits of wildebeests.
Since the numbers are always many – close to two million per migration, it is not true if we said that all the wildebeest eat the same grass. Grazing is always on the go and the group that moves ahead of others will eat the fresh tall grass. The group that follows eats the next level of grass and the procedure follows such a trend so that the last group will eat the level of grass which is closest to the soil. The last level is always full of dust and dung which is why the wildebeests struggle to go ahead of others and thus the migration becomes continuous.
The ones lagging behind are usually the sick, the injured, the new born and the elderly. These are the major targets for lions, hyenas, leopards and other carnivores of the parks. The wildebeest are stronger in unity as they can defeat hunters like lions through kicking and using their horns. Surprise attacks by lions, wild dogs and hyenas that breed a lot of confusion make wildebeests an easy prey. One adult wildebeest is enough for a clan of hyenas or a pride of lions but their desire to kill makes them hunt more than one in a day.
How are the annual great wildebeest migration across Serengeti and Masai Mara national park like?
December to April
The movement of the great wildebeest migration depends on the rains. However, due to past experience and weather predictions, the herds can be located in the Ndutu plains (Southern Serengeti national park – Tanzania). The animals can as well be spotted in the Ngoro Ngoro crater plains. This is a season of calving and hence the best time to visit Serengeti national park for wildebeest experience. The movement is always swift and not all that fast to enable newborn babies cope with the pace. It is the best time for seeing a lion snatch a baby wildebeest or even a pride hunt down an adult wildebeest.
By the months of March and early April, wildebeests will be making their way northwards and the first groups might already be in the central parts of Serengeti national park.
May To June
This is the period of movement towards the northern parts of Serengeti national park. While wildebeests move in search of greener grass and water. On the other hand, lions, leopards and hyenas, follow them in search of the weak, the weary, the young and the injured. The months of June marks the beginning of the dry season. The movements grow a bit faster than before and the areas starts getting somewhat dry. This is the period when the wildebeests cross the Grumeti River. The point of crossing depends on water levels and location of crocodiles. This can be a great viewing point much as it is not as spectacular as that of Mara River.
July to September
By the month of July, the wildebeests are already in the northern parts of Serengeti after crossing Grumeti River. It is in this period that the spectacular event – crossing of the deadly Masai Mara River takes place. This is the most dangerous river in Africa. It is home to the deadly Nile crocodiles that lie by the river side enjoying the sun. The crocodiles quickly dive in the waters as soon as they hear the sound of the curious wildebeests. This is the best moment any traveler never wishes to miss. Here, you will see the battle in the river. The weak surrender while the stronger cross to the other side of the river.
In August, the herd divides into two groups; the one that succeed in crossing the Mara River and those that stay on the other side. The survivors enjoy the green lush vegetation and move north of Masai Mara Game Reserve.
October to November
This is where the cycle rotates and becomes endless. By the month of October, the first group will have explored the northern parts of Masai Mara Game Reserve. At this stage, they are considering a return. Remember, the grass that was left in January in Serengeti is now the sweeter bread. The migration makes a U turn and in the month of November. Wildebeests will roam the areas of Kogatende and Lamai, Lobo, Mbuze Mawe and Seronera Valley areas. These are the northern parts of Serengeti national park where water is abundant.
It is a period of calving and the cycle continues like that over and over.
What is the best time to go for wildebeest migration in Serengeti national park – Tanzania?
- The months of December to April
What is the best time to go for wildebeest migration in Masai Mara national park – Kenya?
- During the months of July to September
There is a lot that can be talked about the great wildebeest migration in Kenya and Tanzania. However, all cannot be said. This is why you ought to have a safari to Tanzania or Kenya. Travel with Love Uganda Safaris and have a look at this ever-talked-about Wildebeest migration.
Book a combined Wildebeest Migration in Kenya and Tanzania safari here