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August rains and bewildered wildebeest

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Four days of good August rain in Kenya’s Masai Mara has recently caused havoc amongst the migrating wildebeest herds as they struggle to decide on which side of the river the grass is greener. Constant deliberation with frequent crossings back and forth is a feast for the predators in wait – aside from snapping crocs, the herds face prides of lion lying in ambush, providing spectacles galore for waiting visitors.

The Mara is in fact home to two wildebeest migrations. The first, and much smaller affair, sees zebra and wildebeest from the Loita hills to the east move westwards in search of better grazing. These herds arrive slightly earlier than the more famous Serengeti herds, usually around late June.

The more famous Serengeti migration travels through the Serengeti ecosystem on an annual cycle. The first three months or so are spent on the southern short grass plains in Tanzania, where the calves are born. The next three months sees the start of the rut and the movement northwards as the food source diminishes and the herds seek pastures new. Heading northwards into the Western Corridor and across the Grumeti River, or along the eastern edge of Loliondo, they aim to reach the Kenya border around early July. Here, the permanent Mara River (on either side of the international boundary) and waters of the Talek allow them to spend the ‘dry season’. Towards the end of October, the scent of the  short November rains, and the lure of the nutritious short grasses of the southern Serengeti plains, sees them start to head south again for their annual calving.

Wildebeest gestate for around 250 days. Calves are born, licked clean, and can run with the herd after about 5 minutes. It is believed that most calves are born within a very short period of each other to limit  the effects of predation (normally around 3 weeks in the southern Serengeti).

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