Last year July, I had the opportunity to witness the spectacular phenomenon of the wildebeest migration from the Mara to the Serengeti.
The wildebeest, also called gnus, are a genus of antelopes. They look more like cattle with their large built and dark skin.
Some perform an annual migration to new grazing grounds, but the black wildebeest is merely nomadic.
Wildebeest are a tourist attraction in places like the Masai Mara in Kenya 🇰🇪 and the Serengeti in Tanzania 🇹🇿. They move in herds for protection.
I was lucky that when my fellow travelers were relaxing at the Serena Lodge, to go out on a game drive with Paul, our assigned very competent game warden, to see the migration of the wildebeest from the Mara south to the Serengeti.
Every year over 1.5 million wildebeest cross East Africa. Each yearly cycle the animals travel over 1,000 km.
Bridge over the Mara River
“Wildebeest were first “discovered” about 1700 by Dutch settlers on their way to the interior of South Africa. Due to their resemblance to wild cattle, these people called them “wild ox” or “wildebeest””
Wildebeest inhabit the plains and open woodlands of parts of Africa.
It is a notable feature of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya and the Liuwa Plain National Park in Zambia.
Sun setting over the Serengeti
Each year, some East African populations of blue wildebeest have a long-distance migration, seemingly timed to coincide with the annual pattern of rainfall and grass growth.
The timing of their migrations in both the rainy and dry seasons can vary considerably (by months) from year to year. At the end of the wet season (May or June in East Africa), wildebeest migrate to dry-season areas in response to a lack of surface (drinking) water. When the rainy season begins again (months later), animals quickly move back to their wet-season ranges.
Factors suspected to affect migration include food abundance, surface water availability, predators, and phosphorus content in grasses.
Phosphorus is a crucial element for all life forms, particularly for lactating female bovids. As a result, during the rainy season, wildebeest select grazing areas that contain particularly high phosphorus levels.One study found, in addition to phosphorus, wildebeest select ranges containing grass with relatively high nitrogen content.
Below we watched thousands of wildebeest after they crossed the Mara river heading to the Serengeti where rainfall was expected.
Paul said that it was the only crossing that week and that there was one the previous week. It was expected that at the end of July there would be many more migrating to the Serengeti joined by antelopes and zebras. However they are at a risk for predators such as lions and hyenas and crocodiles in the river.
Crocodile in the Mara River
Wildebeest and zebras
It’s one thing seeing the Great Migration on The National Geographic Channel but to see it in person is another. I strongly recommend the later.
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*All photos are mine except for the featured image – photographer unknown.