Wildebeest migration Tanzania

| January 10, 2013

Cox & Kings’ Africa Product Manager Louise Stanion shares with us her experience of Tanzania’s great wildebeest migration.

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“Just seen the last line of wildebeest leave the Mara!  Trundling along, all in a straight line, with a definite leader who spotted the 2 lions crouching in the grass before we did and took a savvy sharp left turn! You will defo see the migration when you get to Tanzania. See you next week. Jon x”

It’s always good to receive a text like that, especially on a grey November day, stepping onto the overland train to begin the London commute.  I’d never really paid much attention to the wildebeest migration before, for my own holiday that is. I’d imagined a busy melange of safari vehicles and animals creating a tension that I didn’t associate with the sort of game viewing that inspired me. Traditionally, I tended to head off the beaten track and away from the crowds.

However, here I was, due to revisit some of our favourite lodges in the Serengeti eco-system and the migration was only now just crossing the Mara River from Kenya into Tanzania. In other words, it was unusually late and I would, inadvertently, be flying right into the middle of it! Was this going to be a chance to re-set my personal view of what is truly one of the most spectacular wonders of the natural world; a million and more animals playing out their lives, watched all the way by lions, hyenas and crocodiles looking for a cheap dinner?

On his return, Jon explained some of the intricacies of how the wildebeest move around. The Migration is not a continuous forward motion. They go forward, backwards, and to the sides, they mill around, they split up, they join forces again, they walk in a line, they spread out, or they hang around together. You can never predict with 100% certainty where they will be; the best you can do is suggest likely timing based on past experience.

In Kenya there is a so called ‘welcoming party’ who come down from the Loita Hills in the north to meet the main group travelling from the south, entering the Masai Mara from the Serengeti. This can happen any time from July to October, depending on grazing opportunities (created by local weather conditions) although September and October are the most common months. The welcoming party literally merge with the main group and ‘escort’ them up to the green pasture. They are also said to lead them back again to the Mara River (which runs loosely along the border of Kenya and Tanzania) where the two groups are seen to split, turning their backs to one another, parting company to meet their own separate destinies, until the next year…

This year the wildebeest did an early ‘double back’ to the Serengeti, only to return to the Masai Mara again. When they finally did decide to head back to Tanzania it was late November and so there was still plenty of activity around the Seronera (central) area when I arrived.

What struck me most was the excitement that naturally builds amongst safari-goers (including myself) around seeing such a large number of animals moving around so dramatically; snorting, jostling and kicking up dust. This edginess often happens around standing water, where competition for a drink is fierce.

Of course, the real drama is around the rapid, and elusive, river crossings. The wildebeests are easily spooked by real or imagined threats, some perhaps aware of the lurking predators at these crossing points. They fear crossing the water and it takes patience waiting near a herd sometimes for hours, and even then this may only produce a puff of dust as they turn on their heels and run away! However, the lucky few may get to see this frenzy of beasts making their journey across the river and perhaps spot a crocodile shooting out from the river grabbing the neck of a zebra calf, or an injured animal being targeted by a crouching leopard or lion group. These somewhat gruesome images have been well-documented, showing nature at its most raw.

Game viewing during the migration without doubt takes on another dimension. The Serengeti is known for its excellent resident game but the additional predators that the wildebeest draw means that there is never a dull moment! I saw a large pack of hyena, a lion pride drinking, a buffalo herd and a solitary kori bustard, all backed by the most superb scenic plains dotted with pockets of wildebeest pausing to rest under the shade of the stunning yellow fever acacia; a 360 degree view forever etched into my memory.

Whether you and your driver/guide decide to sit by the river waiting for the ultimate show or ‘escape’ for some quieter moments into this wild eco-system, the area is big enough to accommodate both.

So yes, I am a ‘migration convert’. Unzipping my tent at dawn, looking out over the silent, undulating savannah and seeing a long line of wildebeest, like ants, already on their way down south to the Ndutu area, was magnificent.

View Cox & Kings' wildlife holidays to Tanzania.

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