The world-renowned Maasai Mara National Reserve, known locally as the Maasai Mara or The Mara is a large game reserve in Narok County, Kenya, contiguous with the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. It is named for the Masai people who are the ancestral inhabitants of the area and their description of the area when looked at from afar: “Mara,” which is Maa (Masai language) for “spotted,” an apt description for the circles of trees, scrub, savannah, and cloud shadows that mark the area. It is globally famous for its exceptional population of Masai lions, African leopards and Tanzanian cheetahs, but it is the annual migration of Zebra, Thomson’s gazelle, and Wildebeest to and from the Serengeti every year from July to October, known as the Great Migration that it is best known for.
Every year, the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ is staged, starting inside the Serengeti in Tanzania and ending in the Maasai Mara in Kenya; over 2million wildebeest, accompanied by over 200,000 zebras make an endless chase after the rains and green pasture, in a race for life itself. The Wildebeest Migration is the largest terrestrial mammal migration in the world that has been going on in this region of long before any of the present day human inhabitants settled in the area. This spectacular wildlife event is almost entirely dependent on the rainfall pattern of the region, and typically the wildebeest follow a predictable path as they head north over 800kms. At least 250,000 wildebeest die every year on the long journey from the Serengeti plains to the Maasai Mara from thirst, starvation, exhaustion, or as victims to the many predators that lie in wait on the ground and in the rivers. Watching over 2million animals on the move, particularly at the river crossings makes for dramatic viewing and everyone who gets to a chance to experience this is eternally touched by its magic.
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The Great Migration – Group Tour
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The annual cycle starts on the short-grass plains in the southern extremes of Serengeti National Park into the Ndutu area of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The high volcanic content of the soils in this area produce highly nutritious grass ripened by the arrival of the rains, which provides the best nutrition for the wildebeest and their newborns that arrive within a short 2-3 week period in mid-February when about 8,000 wildebeest are born every day for 3 weeks. The herds linger on this rich grass until the end of April when the rains reduce, the lands dry up and the wildebeest and zebras gradually spread west across the plains towards Lake Victoria, before starting their epic journey north.
May – June
By May, the main herd has usually crossed into the Moru Kopjes and Seronera Valley areas of Serengeti National Park, continuing on a northwestern route. The gathering of the herds here can be quite chaotic with a series of moving columns of hundreds of thousands of wildebeest joined by zebra, Thomson and Grant gazelles. The herds congregate at the south side of the Grumeti River by the start of June only crossing the river when they have built up to a high density. This river presents the first obstacle for the wildebeest and zebras as they encounter enormous Nile crocodiles lying in wait to catch a bite.
July – October
In July the herds continue northwards passing through the Grumeti Game Reserve in the west, and alternately across the north of the Serengeti National Park before arriving at the Mara River, the area’s permanent water source. It is here that the greatest spectacle of the migration that is the stuff of wildlife documentaries can be witnessed – the animals making a frantic dash across the gushing river as they try to elude the massive Nile crocodiles for whom the migration is one giant annual buffet ready for them to dig into. With millions of animals making it across the river to the fresh grasses, it is not uncommon to watch river crossings daily over several days, and often times the herd crosses back and forth over the river, following the rains and the resultant fresh grass.
By August, most of the herd has made it into the Maasai Mara in Kenya where it settles for the rest of the dry season, until October.
In early November, with the start of the short rains, the wildebeest herds start moving south again, taking the southeastern route through Western Lolindo and the Serengeti National Park’s Lobo area. By December, the herds emerge from the northern woodland area of Serengeti National Park in time to catch the monsoon rains and the lush grass in the Serengeti plains in the extreme south – just in tome for calving in February.
The Great Migration – What You Need To Know
Maasai Mara National Reserve is between 920 to 1,850 meters above sea level in the southwestern region of Kenya
The Maasai Mara region has a wide range of accommodation facilities to suit all range of clients. Please email [email protected] for more information.