During my current stay in Kenya, I have been discussing this natural phenomenon with various learned people – a combination of rangers that work in the reserve and guides that have spent many years working in the region.
Recently there have been reports that suggest the wildebeest have turned back towards the Mara and have seemingly abandoned their long migration to the Southern Serengeti where they traditionally drop some 500 000 calves in February/March. Our contacts in the Masai Mara have reported that several hundred thousand wildebeest are crossing the Sand River back towards the Mara. This is unusual in itself as, at this stage, they should be far further south into the Serengeti heading towards the fertile Ndutu plains to give birth.
After all , it is mid December! Since this has happened, I have had several people contact me concerned that their Migration Safari experience in August will be negatively effected by the unusual chain of event.
Yes, it is unusual – but not a first.
In 1993 , the wildebeest actually stayed in the Mara for an entire year and I am certain that over the centuries there have been similar instances wherein the very same process has occurred.
Why? Well it is fairly simple – the wildebeest follow the rain as this will give rise to quality grazing that provides the sustenance to keep them going. Normally the long rains exist in Tanzania during October through to December, with sporadic rainfall occurring in Kenya. The Serengeti, situated in Tanzania, is currently experiencing a drought and, in Kenya, the Masai Mara is having some unseasonal heavy rains. This has resulted in little or no grass further south and some exceptional grazing in the Mara and the wildebeest have turned back to take advantage of this occurrence.
The quality of the grasses also plays a significant part. The Masai Mara is dominated by Red Oat grass which is arguably the most nutritious grass available. The Serengeti does have pockets of this grass, but nowhere near to the extent that it exists further North in the Masai Mara.
The long rains in Kenya, normally start in March through to May so, if the normal rainfall patterns eventuate, there will be sufficient grass in the Mara to sustain the some 1 500 000 wildebeest and 400 000 zebra that feed on this resource.
Simple as that.
This, however, is still a natural process so, by its definition, things can change. The popular opinion is that there is a good chance that the events of 1993 will repeat itself and the Wildebeest will stay here, calve and cross the Mara river many times.
The traditional “ Migration period “ – July through to October – will NOT be effected. In fact , this should only add to the intensity of the spectacle!
Should the Wildebeest drop their young in the Masai Mara in February, I for one, will be there to witness it and I would love to have you join me!
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