The world’s grandest animal migration is a life and death lottery. For the lucky ones that make it, greener pastures await, and for others becoming a prey to colossal cats is how it ends. Witnessing the annual spectacle of the great migration of herds of wildebeest, zebra, gazelle, and eland between Tanzania and Kenya as it unfolds on the Savannah of East Africa can be described as the eighth natural wonder of the world.
Our stay was at an elegant but rustic tented lodge nestled along the edge of the wildlife reserve. Our local guide Emeka, works at the lodge, introducing well-heeled tourists to the raw splendour of wildlife and culture that travels the area’s generous floodplains.
At approximately 4 am, we could hear a lion’s call outside our tent. Scared, baffled and shocked, we did not know what to do. The silhouette of the giant male lion was visible through the tent’s fabric. We were scared to death. The lion was there for two hours, purring, roaring, and moving from side to side. Our heart’s skipped a beat, with an up, close, and personal encounter with Africa’s apex predator.
As planned, we headed over to the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania for our safari adventure to begin. Emeka explained, the stage at which this grand show unravels is loosely termed the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, an area covering approximately 40,000 square kilometres comprising the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in the south, Serengeti National Park and the Maasai Mara National Reserve to the north.
We witnessed herds of wildebeests arrive at the Mara River in thousands and gather on its banks waiting to crossover. As they cross the river in Maasai Mara, huge Nile crocodiles lie and wait on their unsuspecting preys taking them to their watery graves. For days, their numbers continue to grow and swell, building up the anticipation to cross, but many times, they turn and wander away from the water’s edge undecided in their intentions to cross.
While the wildebeests are drawn to migrate by their need for food, the fact that they are constantly on the move has the added benefit that they persistently outrun large numbers of predators. The predators are unable to follow the moving herds very far, as many are territorial and can neither abandon their territories nor invade those of others.
About 90 per cent of the cows are heavy with new seasons young. In reality, there is neither a beginning nor an end to their endless search for food and water, as they circle in a relentless sequence of life and death.
When to go
You might be the lucky one if you visit during this time, the sight of the wildebeests crossing is so dramatic, it is considered by many the most desirable time to see the migration.
It is the only time of the year when you are almost guaranteed to see the big herds all together as they always come south.