TEMBEA : The wildebeest wonder

The annual migration of the Serengeti and Masai Mara is one of the most dramatic spectacles of nature on earth. The 1.5 million animal ungulate (wildebeest) migrations, from the vast Serengeti plains to the champagne colored hills of Kenya’s Masai Mara over 1.4 million wildebeest and 200,000 zebra and gazelle, relentlessly tracked by Africa’s great predators. They move in a clockwise fashion over 1,800 miles each year in search of rain ripened grass.

The annual migration of the Serengeti and Masai Mara is one of the most dramatic spectacles of nature on earth. The 1.5 million animal ungulate (wildebeest) migrations, from the vast Serengeti plains to the champagne colored hills of Kenya’s Masai Mara over 1.4 million wildebeest and 200,000 zebra and gazelle, relentlessly tracked by Africa’s great predators. They move in a clockwise fashion over 1,800 miles each year in search of rain ripened grass.

An Africa Point reports calls this the Great Annual Wildebeest Migration. This cross border event along the open wild ranges between Kenya and Tanzanian, one of the last great migrations, and is increasingly celebrated as unique world heritage.

In November 2006, a jury of experts polled by ABC Television - a leading American broadcaster, affirmed the annual migration as one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World”.

The Maasai Mara plays host to the Great Wildebeest Migration from the Serengeti. From the months of July to October, the promise of rain and fresh life giving grass in the north brings more than 1.5 million Wildebeest together into a single massive herd.

They converge across the border into the Mara, making a spectacular entrance in a surging column of life that stretches from horizon to horizon. The miracle of the Great Migration is that the animals mysteriously find their way.

The wildebeests bring balance to the fragile ecosystem. They are the heart and soul of the Great Migration-which is lush with new grass.

There’s even a pattern to the way they eat grass; first, the zebras come. “The zebra seems to be eating top grass, the wildebeest go for the middle then the herd beasts, the gazelles go for the lowest part”, so says Edwin Murithi.

At Grumeti and Mara Rivers they mass together on the banks before finally plunging wildly forward through the raging waters, creating frenzy as they fight against swift currents and waiting crocodiles which start feasting on them.

The Great Migration involves the wildebeest, a larger member of the antelope family, also known as the gnu. The wildebeest is Dutch for “wild beast”, and was so named by South African Dutch settlers, who were inspired by the beasts bewildering appearance and behavior.

The gnu comes fitted with the crest like a buffalo’s, skinny antelope-like legs, a horse-like tail, and a hind slant posture like a hyena’s.

From January to March the wildebeest calve and then set upon their journey. In June, as the dry season scorches the grass, a distant scent of moisture brings promise of rain in the north, they begin to gather, and form a enormous single herd.

They take to North, in a massive exodus of life. The sound of the approaching herd is a deep, primal rumbling of thundering hooves and low grunts.

This endless grey river of life is mottled with black and white as zebras join the throng, drawn onwards in the search for the rains and fresh life giving grass.

By July the herds begin to cross into Kenya from Tanzania, bringing the plains to life as predators are drawn to this perfect opportunity for easy hunting.

At the edge of the Maasai Mara the herds face their greatest obstacle, a series of rivers that must be crossed. At the Mara River the herds gather at the banks, piling together in front of the broad fast flowing waters.

As the pressure builds the herds finally surge into the river, many animals hurling themselves off high banks.
As they struggle across the rivers many are drowned or swept away by strong currents.

The crossing attracts massive crocodiles that each year wait to savour the tender flesh of wildebeest.

A great frenzy in the waters ensures as crocodiles plunge into the herds and pull down the prey, as the mounting pressure on the shore pushes more and more animals into the water.

As they reach their goal, the herds spread out to graze across the expanse of the Mara. October sees the herds turn southward and repeat the same journey back to the Serengeti, where there are renewed grasslands.

Masai Mara is the best place to see wildlife in Kenya. It is at the mara that you will see Buffalo, Elephant, Leopard, Lion, Rhinoceros, Cheetah, Zebra, Giraffe and Hippo.

The vast grassland plains of Maasai Mara are scattered with herds of Zebra, Giraffe, Gazelle, and Topi. Elephants and Buffalo wallow in the wide Musiara Swamp. The Mara and Talek rivers are brimming with Hippos and Crocodiles.

All these and more will definitely be seen at the Masai Mara without any hastle. The Acacia forests abound with Bird life and Monkeys.

Masai Mara has over 500 wildlife species thus making it the most preferred tourist destination by those who want to take close photographs of wildlife.

The seventh wonder of the world is also an example of nature at work. Of all the calves born in the Serengeti, two out of three will never return from their first and most demanding migration. It is the inextricable binding of renewal and sustenance, feast and famine, life and death.

This endless pilgrimage has no beginning or end to a wildebeest’s journey, but is a constant search for food and water.

kelviod@yahoo.com

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