For many people, the thought of the Great Wildebeest Migration brings to mind images of thunderous river crossings with crocodiles snatching at the heels of wildebeest as they make their way across East Africa’s rivers.
Others may picture the seemingly never-ending line of millions of wildebeest on their great trek. However, the amazingness of the calving season is something that people tend to overlook. Calving takes place between January and February: in Jan/Feb the herds begin making their way to the south of the Serengeti after the rains start falling, and fresh grass begins to grow. The question of how the herds know when, precisely, the rains begin is something many people have pondered and the answer is that we actually do not know! Some say that they can smell the rain, others believe they can sense when the pressure in the air changes; the only thing we know for sure is that where it rains, the herds follow. Within a two to three week time period over half a million wildebeest are born with as many as 8,000 wildebeest being born on a single day!
The herds spend the majority of Jan, Feb and March in the Ndutu and Ngorongoro Conservation areas, although not within the crater itself. The soil in this area is rich in nutrients meaning the grass is perfect for young wildebeest to munch on and build up their strength in the first few weeks of their lives.
With the promise of rains from March to May, the young wildebeest are virtually guaranteed fresh grass during their migration all the way up into the central parts of the Serengeti. And it’ll come as no surprise that with all these baby zebra, gazelle and wildebeest stumbling around on wobbly legs, the number of predators in the area reaches a high. However, an easy meal is no guarantee! These mothers have been following this route for thousands of years and know most of the tricks that predators pull. Wildebeest mothers instinctively know to give birth on the shorter grass plains where approaching predators are easier to spot. Other mothers join them and actually form protective barricades around the young and most vulnerable new additions to the herd. Predators have to deal with extremely protective mothers who will do everything in their power to protect their young. If you’re travelling to the Serengeti during this time you’re guaranteed to see action unfolding between mothers, their calves and prowling predators.
It is not only the herbivores you’ll have the chance to see though, the predators too have co-ordinated their birthing times to coincide with the birth of their prey so their young have the highest chance of survival too. With thousands of baby wildebeest running around it is much easier for a mother lion, cheetah or leopard to find a meal for their hungry cubs as well as give them the opportunity to learn how to hunt for themselves.
All of these factors go to show that the timing and location of the calving season was purposefully selected in order to increase the chances of survival, both for prey and predator. The calving season is truly a remarkable time in East Africa and has so much to offer any safari-goer looking to see something other than the usual river crossing.
And the real winner? This is low season because there will be rain, so lodge prices are half the rack-rates; and air fares are reasonable. This is also known as the ‘emerald season’ because everything is green and fresh; the air is free from dust so the quality of photos is better, particularly panlow lodge prices make this an excellent time to be on safari.oramic shots. The drama of birthing, the interaction of predator and prey and the