The Great Wildebeest Migration, the world’s largest migration of wildlife, is a popular event to witness in Kenya’s Maasai Mara. While migration happens year-round, it’s in July and August that the wild beasts cross the Mara River. This year, they’ve already been spotted in the area.
The Maasai Mara National Reserve, also known as Masai Mara or the Mara, is a 583-square-mile protected area for wildlife. Visitors on their typical Kenya tours heading here to witness the majestic, natural phenomenon of the wildebeest migration on safari between July and October.
More than 2 million animals travel from Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara National Reserve, which is why it’s hailed as one of the Seven National Wonders of Africa. Thousands of zebra, eland and Thompson’s gazelle also make the journey, too. The trek is particularly hard, and more than 250,000 wildebeest to begin the journey do not make it to the end every year.
They’re not just taking a long walk for the fun of it. The Great Migration is triggered by the dry season, which can run from any time between June and October. That the animals have been spotted early this year in the Mara means the dry season has started. During the dry season, other bodies of water in the Serengeti dry up, leaving the only other source of water for the animals in the Mara River.
Usually in September, the rainy season will begin again and the animals will start their journey back to the Serengeti. The best way to see the event is to know the path of the migration and to try to plan when you think the animals will be in the area you’ll be visiting. Of course, when the seasons change early and unexpectedly, that can throw a wrench into your plans.
The wildebeests once again stand above the river, eyes wide, breath labored – each animal vying for a position that gives the safest and surest path to the water and the opposite bank. Hours can pass while conversing with your guide as the wildebeests nervously watch the water for crocodiles. Finally, with no apparent trigger, a few animals rush toward the water, with thousands following close behind along with zebras, elands and gazelles.
Your excitement quickly turns to fear. You know that time is of the essence – crocodiles are moving toward the slower and smaller wildebeests. Snapping jaws are not the only threat, though, as the current of the Mara River acts with greater unrelenting ferocity, often ending more life than the predators. Your heart breaks for the younger calves that are simply too tired and inexperienced to survive the gantlet.
In the chaos, nonetheless, you watch as one-by-one, the strongest and most determined reach the other side, and you feel a great sense of relief and joy. Few are stopped short by prowling and stalking predators like lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas waiting around the upper banks of the Mara River for an easy catch on arrival.