Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Masai Mara - Serengeti wildebeest migration: African Wildlife Safari

Masai Mara - Serengeti wildebeest migration: African Wildlife Safari

Wildebeest migration to and back from Serengeti into the Maasai Mara is the single most popular wildlife spectacle in Kenya. The wildebeest migration is such a phenomenon it involves movement of over 1 million animals crossing plains and rivers in the mara migration. River crossings are the most spectacular where the wildebeest of mara jump into rivers full of crocodiles and surging currents. The wildebeest is feted as the clown of the Savannah. Also known as a gnu, the animal has a structure resembling a young horse with a heavily built frontal shoulders and chest and a slender posterior. Its legs are so slender it’s intriguing how it supports the proportionately larger body frame. The ‘clown’ title results from its unusual behavior considered to other bovids, for example a gnu herd will usually scatter in different directions when attacked by a lion.

The Wildebeest Migration:
What gives the gnu its worldwide repute is not its body structure however, but the sheer numbers and spectre created by its migration. The animals migrate between the Serengeti and Mara Savannahs in Tanzania and Kenya respectively, in search of grass and water. It is estimated that over 1 million of these animals are on the move during the annual migration between June and October. The numbers are so high that miles upon miles of grassland is blanketed by a mass of moving gnu. They simply stretch from one horizon to the next; of the conveniently flat and treeless Maasai Mara Savannah. It is a sight to behold when on your wildlife safari. The wildebeest migration phenomenon is so huge that satellites miles away in space are able to capture the surge as a black moving mass on the plains of East Africa. Now, that’s huge: and it’s even more awesome watching it on the ground or with Mara balloon Safaris.

Mara River Crossing:
The most dramatic and memorable safari experience is when you observe the migrating wildebeest/gnus at the several Mara river crossings. Numbers upon numbers gather at such crossings unsure of their next move. The crossings are such notorious spots that the gnus have developed a self preservation instinct over time. Wildebeests will amass in their thousands at banks of river Mara which is rife with the dreaded Nile crocodile and raging currents. Put in the swift current, eminent stampedes and jaw snapping crocodiles in this picture and you get a guaranteed recipe for mass genocide at such river crossings. The Maasai Mara River is usually awash with bloated mass of wildebeest carcass that crocodiles feast on for days on end.

Over 250,000 of the wildebeest die from drowning, stampede, crocodiles and the predators every year. But even this annual carnage is not enough to reduce their numbers. The wildebeest deaths during migration are replenished by the over 400,000 births a year. The deaths during migration are now considered as a natural population check; natural selection at its best.

Do and Die Point:
River crossings in the Mara are favourite vantage points to observe the Mara wildebeest migration on your Kenyan safari. The animals will gather hesitantly in huge numbers on the banks, unsure of when to take the plunge. The other wildebeests behind the frontline keep amassing into hundreds of thousands until the pressure on the front is too much to bear.

They finally take the leap; and when they do, even the waiting crocodiles scatter to the flanks. The fear of being trampled by the millions of wildebeest is too real for even a crocodile to risk a head-on affront. Hundreds upon hundreds make death-daring- high leaps into the water, that the splash makes a swash like a million water falls.

The Wildebeest Predators:
Wildebeest Migration is such that a smattering population of other bovids, join in the migration including Zebras and Gazelles. Lion prides also escort (as they eat some, of course) and welcome the migrating wildebeest on either side of the Mara River Crossings. The lions stark up their stomachs with gnu carcass to a point, the prey subdues the prides in the plains with little fear. As long as a lion has had his 35 odd kilos of meat a day, he poses no threat. “All that is needed is to sacrifice a cousin here, a distant aunt there and we are fine.” It’s surely a game of numbers. Leopards on other hand, don’t have to move far to hunt its prey. All they’ll do is pounce on unsuspecting wildebeest as they pass by their (leopards) tree parches. The rest scatter as usual in different directions. “It’s just another sacrifice after all; we still got the numbers… no matter what. This is one of the most elusive picture-perfect moments when you are on your African Wildlife Safari.

Visiting the Masai Mara:
It’s not only the carnivores that will escort migrating wildebeests but humans as well. The Maasai Maraattracts such interest that the ensuring demand during the months of June-October cannot be met. You will find it difficult to get a space in the lodges if you do not book in advance. Your accommodation in the Mara ranges from 4star to 5star deluxe lodges, tented camps and simple camping tents. The wildebeest Migration takes place everyday of the 4(July-October) month duration. You are as such guaranteed a sighting irrespective of which month of the 4 you visit.

Your bookings are handled by several very professional companies which also provide transportation and transfers from airports, self drive car hire and accommodation in the Mara. Make sure you see the migration the next time you make a Kenyan wildlife safari.

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