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The Great Migrations – A Simple Story, Told Simply!

Wild animals lead a fairly simple life!

Their existence is literally in the moment.

Their mantra – Eat; Mate & Stay alive one day at a time!

They have no other cares, it doesn’t bother them whether they are dark or fair, no dilemma over what to wear neither do they ponder about whose child to bear 

The only single agenda that the Carnivores & the Herbivores in the wild wake up with at the crack of every dawn is, where & how can they find food & water for that day!

This very quest for food & water is the main reason for the mind-bogglingly popular (popular only in the world of the homo-sapiens) phenomena the ‘MIGRATIONS’ of the Wildebeest & Zebra in the savannah grasslands of East Africa.

Each year around 1.5 to 2 million Wildebeest & Zebra, traverse over 2000 miles from their original home – the “Serengeti” meaning the endless plains in Tanzania, which is spread over 14763 square kilometers to the “Masai Mara” in Kenya spread over 1510 square kilometers and back. 

The herds are oblivious to the international borders that they cross without any documentation

One fourth of the herds always remain behind in the Serengeti, because there is sufficient food available for them to graze on, 3/4thactually complete the journey up to the Mara, if they manage to stay safe despite all the dangers that they encounter along the way.

What they traverse is an arduous journey & not a vacation for change of climate, this is a  need crucial to their survival….

The vulnerable Wildebeest….

In the African bush they say that God made all the other animals and at the end came the  humble Wildebeest.

If you notice closely the Wildebeest looks like it has been assembled from parts of different animals….it has the face of a Goat; horns of a Cow; half the hide of a faded Zebra; a tail that resembles a horses tail, and a body that slants towards the hind limbs making the hind limbs look shorter than the fore limbs, like the Hyena. 

Thanks to their clumsy & awkward movements, they are very entertaining to observe, hence gaining them the title of “clowns of the savannah” 

Their native name GNU, is actually the phonetic representation of the incessant sounds that they make!  GNU GNU GNU GNU 

  • December to March, the Wildebeest & Zebra are spread across Southern Serengeti (Tanzania), in the Ndutu region. This is also the calving season, when they give birth to their young ones. Untampered Nature always has a valid reason for why things are the way they are. So the reason behind them giving birth in this region is that the Ndutu region of the Serengeti is practically along the Ngorongoro conservation area. Ngorongoro is a magnificent caldera formed due to a Volcano that had fallen in on itself a few million years ago. The area around the volcanic activity was covered with the volcanic ash. Grass that grows on the land that is exposed to volcanic ash is more nutritious, hence good for the mother & her young one, hence the calving happens in the Ndutu region of the Serengeti.

  • End of March, they march upwards, April & May they are spread across Central Serengeti

  • June they are North bound, from mid- June they start entering the Masai Mara (Kenya) oblivious to the political borders. If the crocodile infested Mara river falls in their path, they have to dare the “river crossing” .

  • Mid-June to Mid- September they are spread across the Masai Mara which is 1510 square kilometers, coming from their original home the Serengeti which 14763 square kilometers, their concentration in the Mara is dense…the deadly predators – Lion; Leopard; Cheetah are territorial, hence this time of the year is a major feast for the predators in the Mara.

  • Mid- September onwards they start returning to the Serengeti

  • October they are in Northern Serengeti

  • November in Central Serengeti

  • December yet again back in Ndutu, ready to give birth

  • The cycle & the story goes on yet again…

The date for the migrations can never be predicted, it depends upon the weather, especially the rains.

It’s a hard & harsh journey…many die of exhaustion; many die of disease & many fall prey to the deadly predators waiting to pounce on them  – the menacing crocodiles in the Mara River & the Wild Cats in the bush all waiting to devour the abundance that they enjoy in the numbers…

So why Migrate at all?? Well, it’s simple – for food, they migrate only for food, they smell the rain and the promise of life that the rains bring with them….

Nature is truly astounding!

So why do the Wildebeest & Zebra Migrate together??

In Nature, everything happens for a valid & logical reason, seldom are occurrences random, there is science behind everything……

  • The Zebra has a better eyesight & hearing, so they can see & hear the Lions & Leopards very quickly and alert the Wildebeest.

  • The Zebra is also smarter, and since it knows that the Wildebeest is not as smart, it’s easy for the Lions to hunt the Wildebeest, and so the Zebra is saved yet another day while the Wildebeest gets killed.

  • Then due to the shapes of their mouths, the Wildebeest can eat short grass & the Zebra can eat tall grass, so the Zebra eats the long grass first & actually mows the grass, which is then eaten by the Wildebeest.

  • The Zebra has a much better memory, so they remember the migration routes well.

  • The Wildebeest can smell the rains & the water, so if they stay with the Wildebeest, the Zebra never goes thirsty.

Is “Migration” & “River Crossing” one & the same thing?

No, the herds have to dare to jump into the Mara River, only at points where there is no other route. 

It takes loads of courage for the herds to jump into the Mara River as they are aware of the presence of the ominous crocodiles in the depths of the water. 

There is immense uncertainty, they don’t know where a crocodile will pop out of the water, neither do they know behind which bush are the big cats hiding to pounce on them. 

Hence the herds could gather on one bank of the river in thousands and stay stationed at one spot at times for over 48 hours until the inevitable becomes inevitable and it becomes imperative that they cross. 

It only takes one brave-heart to take the plunge, and then the rest simply follow, that’s how the saying “HERD’s INSTINCT”!

The incessant noise of the GNU sounds that they make; the thunderous symphony created as they hurriedly splash across in the  muddy waters of the Mara, beating in tandem with their heart-beat….actually gives you a blood rush & your eardrums beat loud as your heart pounds hard too…because your heart beats with them for them, and you pray that every single one of them makes it to shore safely!

It’s incredible how we connect with these creatures in the wild….each one of us has a different story to tell. A mere difference of 5 minutes in the bush enfolds a different tale. It’s all so real that it almost feels surreal!

Africa hence is addictive, once is never enough, maybe once every year might just about satiate the desire to re-live the moments in the bush!

Africa, the abundant animal abode 

There surely is some divine intervention!

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Credit for the images used on this website are attributed to – The Governors Camp Collection, Wilderness Safaris, Wild Horizons, Lemala Camps & Lodges, The Zanzibar Collection & Graham Simmonds
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