The Great Mammal Migration: 6 Interesting Facts to Know

The Great Mammal Migration is undeniably one of the world’s most spectacular events and a once in a lifetime experience. Each year sees a great number of travelers, from all over the world, descend to the plains of the Masai Mara in Kenya and the Serengeti in Tanzania, to witness this awe-inspiring natural wonder.Picture over 2 million mammals traveling as one force on a circular route across two countries, in search of greener pastures and a safe place to give birth to their young. These mammals, which consist of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle, face challenging terrain and often dangerous situations which sadly results in the loss of life. It is, however, difficult not to admire the incredible journey that these animals embark on; the trials and tribulations they face and the sheer determination to reach their destination. It is an experience not easily put into words but is without a doubt unlike anything on this planet.  Because the Great Migration is nothing short of jaw-dropping, here are some incredible facts to know before embarking on your safari of a lifetime!

1. More than 2 million mammals travel approximately 500 miles across the open plains.

Great migration of wildebeest, Masai Mara, Kenya

The first fact to know before going on your safari is that an incredible number of wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle travel through the plains of the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Masai Mara in Kenya - 2 million to be exact! These mammals travel an astonishing 500 miles in search of greener pastures and a safe place to give birth. A natural instinct for any animal is to seek safety by traveling in numbers. This is a successful tactic used to avoid notorious predators such as lions and Nile crocodiles who strategically hide in the grassy Mara plains and the depths of the Mara River, waiting for an opportunity to strike. The Nile crocodile takes the gold medal as the deadliest predator. Crocodiles are known to kill by drowning. When it spots a potential victim, it clutches the prey in its strong jaws and pulls it beneath the water surface. If you’re eager to feast your eyes on this soul-stirring sight, you should have a Safari in the Masai Mara in Kenya during the months of July through September when the herds cross the Grumeti and Mara Rivers. As the food supply quickly diminishes, the herds are forced to head to the long grass plains and woodlands of the Serengeti's western corridor near Lake Victoria. Here, the animals divide, with some swinging further west and others heading northwest. This is the perfect opportunity for predators to strike. To witness the extra ordinance of the Serengeti, it’s best to visit during the months of June and July.

2. The Wildebeest cows all give birth at once.

View from a Hot Air Balloon of the Great Wildebeest Migration barricade.

The second fact to know before going on your safari is that the pregnant wildebeest cows give birth around the same time - this is by no means a coincidence. This significant event occurs in late January and early February within the Southern Serengeti and Western Ngorongoro Conservation area. An overwhelming number of wildebeest calves (approximately 8,000) are born, resulting in the highest concentration of predators to gather in Africa. Female wildebeest instinctively know to head to the short grass plains so that they can see approaching predators. There they form a barricade around birthing mothers to protect them and the young when they are the most vulnerable, during birth, ensuring the majority of the young survive. Traveling to the Serengeti during calving season promises adventure and plenty of action.

3. Wildebeest young are born to run.

Blue Wildebeest and newly born calf.

The third fact to know before going on your safari is that wildebeest calves are able to run only minutes after being born. Wildebeest are social animals and understand that the only strategy for survival is to stay with the herd no matter what. Once the newborn calves are able to run, they are gathered together in the centre of the herd, as a means of protection from predators, improving their chances of survival.

4. Serengeti National Park’s ecosystem is the oldest on the planet.

A lioness attacks a zebra herd during The Great Migration, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania.

The fourth fact to know before going on your safari is that the Serengeti National Park is a world-renowned national park boasting incredible landscapes and the most complex and least disturbed ecosystem on earth. It’s climate, fauna and vegetation have barely changed in the past million years. The Serengeti has the greatest concentration of plains game in Africa - more than 2 million Wildebeest, 500,000 Thomson's gazelle, and 250,000 Zebra.  It is also known to be the greatest lion sanctuary in Africa, with some 3,000 lions meandering through the plains. Over and above the grand number of lion, there is an impressive number of ungulate-eating carnivore’s who call the Serengeti home; including spotted hyena, leopard, cheetah, wild dog, black-backed jackal and approximately six species of vulture.

5. The migration is responsible for at least 250 000 deaths.

Wildebeest jumping into the Mara River, Great Migration, Tanzania.

The fifth fact to know before going on your safari is that the is that it's the largest overland migration in the world. It’s also one of the deadliest. In the northern part of their route, the wildebeest pile up anxiously on the banks of the mighty Mara River which they must repeatedly cross. As one works up the courage to cross, they all dive in. National Geographic will often show crocodiles killing wildebeest as they attempt to cross the river but sadly most fatalities are generally caused by drowning. The heat is exhausting and with the number of mammals traveling at once, there are often many stampedes and a misconception of water levels.

6. Phenomenal animal instinct.

A Blue Wildebeest, with a rainbow in the background.

The sixth fact to know before going on your safari is less about how they navigate but rather why. The simple truth is, if they want to survive they must move and migrate in order to find fresh grazing. Animals always tend to go back to their place of birth at the same time every year. This is most likely a combination of instinct and behavior learned through the generations. It is a constant search for food and the best place to give birth. One thing is certain, their movement coincides perfectly with the annual rainfall. If the rainfall is later than usual then the arrival of the herds of wildebeest will inevitably be delayed.Everyone should experience the Great Wildebeest Migration at least once in their life. There is absolutely nothing like it on earth.If the Great Migration is on your bucket list, can tailor-make a safari just for you!

Want to learn more about the Great Migration?

The Migration Path Explained

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