An Incredible Sight – The Great Migration Thundering Into Ndutu
It’s been happening since the beginning of time. Nothing has changed. Come December the great migratory herds make their way south into the short grass plains of southern Serengeti. The migration comes in waves. The advance is bravely led by the effervescent Thomson’s Gazelle feeding off the fresh grass shoots that sprout in the region, followed by the wildebeest, zebra and eland. Predators like Cheetah and nomadic lions follow the herds. This movement of these nomadic lions causes a stress on the indigenous lion prides of the region as these males are forever in quest of breeding prides and can wipe out entire generation of lion cubs after killing the dominant males of the region, if they ever get a chance. As far as lions go, it’s the survival of the fittest and the wariest. Lion prides have to be careful of the Maasai that stay in the region next to prime water sources, through the dry season. If a lion kills a Maasai cow, it’s at grave risk of being killed by the Moran. Though the NCAA is doing wonderful conservation in the region, and many Maasai clans have stopped the age old tradition of killing a cattle lifter, there is always that odd chance that a bunch of warriors intoxicated by tradition, can take the law in their hands. Lions are no fools and they have learnt, over time to stay well away from these pastorals. At the same time the dominant male lions of the region have to stay in the peak of their health for any weakness can invite the wrath of the nomads. So whilst the arrival of the herds brings with it an abundance of food, it has its danger too.
The Maasai have always known about this great movement of animals as their cattle are affected by the calves that transmit a killer virus. They move out of the short grass plains before the arrival of the calves.
The calving takes place anytime between January to April. Half a million wildebeest females time their calving to perfection. The biggest killers of the calves being hyenas, the calves are dropped within a short window of two weeks, between 9 am and 5 pm. There being security in numbers. The large packs of hyenas head for their burrows in those hours preferring to hunt in the darkness.
The wildebeest calve in these short grass plains because of the natural minerals present in the fresh grass that sprouts with the onset of the short rains. The grass ensures that the calves get the best of nutrition in their weakest and most vulnerable of moments, when the young calves start to graze and from their mothers nutrition rich milk. These nutritient rich endless grass plains are fed by the short rains that start in November and continue into December. Then because of a complex geographic phenomena caused by the winds, the great lake and the mountains, the rain continues sporadically till March when the big rains come. By May when the grass is too course to feed upon, the herds start to move again following the rains and the fresh graze. They head north by north west via Moru Kopjes and Seronera into the Western Corridor.
We at the Royal Migration Camp will be following them into the western corridor this year and then onto the Mara Region for the great river crossing later in the year in July.
Note: Every now and then you will see a wildebeest calve running against the wave of migrating herds. It might attach itself to your car. Do not try and help it. It’s been estranged from its mother and is trying to find her. If the lost calve runs along with the migration, the chances are great that he might never find his mother and die of hunger. The mother knows that’s its estranged calve will always run back and against the movement of other animals. She too does the same with a greater chance of reuniting with it again.
Wildebeest running past camp.
One of the greatest experiences in the world is to hear the constant thunder of these migrating herds and to smell the soil and revel in their dust as they run for the sheer joy of running.