Wildebeest great migration- A sight to behold

Wildebeest crossing Mara river during the great migration.

Thrilling! Awe-inspiring! One of the greatest spectacles on earth!

Tens of thousands of animals on the move across vast stretches of African plains!

The annual migration of great herds of wildebeests, zebras, gazelles and other animals certainly is a phenomenon to behold!

A brief safari to Kenya’s Masai Mara Game Reserve, on the very edge of the famous Serengeti Plains, can afford you the opportunity to witness this amazing scene.

The Masai Mara Game Reserve


The Masai Mara Game Reserve, located in the southwestern corner of Kenya, is a huge, unspoiled landscape of rolling hills, acacia trees and green grass Savannah.

Within the reserve’s roughly 700 square miles (1,800 square kilometers) are said to be some 95 different species of mammals and over 450 species of birds.

We will see, not only a host of smaller animals, but also the big five of African game animals—elephants, lions, rhinos, leopards and cape buffaloes.

Around the Mara River is a sizable hippo population, as well as a number of crocodiles.

It is noteworthy that the Masai graze their cattle right alongside the plains game, taking their chances with the Mara’s large lion population.

The Maasai Mara plains are alive with wildlife! There are hartebeests, with their strangely shaped horns.

Present, too, are topi, Grant’s gazelles, giraffes, waterbucks, buffaloes, warthogs and some small herds of wildebeest and zebras.

Surely, with all these animals in sight, the king of beasts must be nearby.

The migration of wildebeests


Your first glimpse of the phenomenon must be seeing savanna plains covered by a tremendous herd of wildebeests!

Why, there must be thousands of them!

Wildebeests and zebras are everywhere. It is as if you are surrounded by a sea of animals.

And they—especially the wildebeests—are on the move, slowly, almost in single file, seemingly following a leader.

Onward they go. Nothing seems to deter them.

Over plains, through valleys, across ditches and streams they keep on moving.

At times like these, the animals can be oblivious to what happens around them.

The tragedy of having one snared by a predator seems to go unnoticed.

Pushing, shoving, trampling—yes, some are crushed along the way as the great herd just keeps going forward.

When drinking at a river, as many as three can be on top of one another. The result? some deaths.

If you can move a bit closer, you can hear the distinctive sonorous bleating grunts.

What a strange sound!

Wildebeests are very noisy animals, and their incessant lowing—with so many voices together—produces a mighty discordant roar across the plains.

The wildebeest, or gnu, most numerous of the larger animals of East Africa, is a strange-looking creature.

Unmistakably an antelope, it is closely related to the hartebeest.

The gnu’s oxlike front portion, with massive shoulders and the horse-like black mane and tail, along with a beard under the neck, tends to disassociate it from the other, more graceful, antelopes.

The most common of wildebeests and variety that inhabits the plains of Kenya and Tanzania is the brindled gnu or blue wildebeest.

The brindled gnu is dark gray, crossed by darker bands on the foreparts, thus having the “brindled” appearance.

Anywhere from four to four and a half feet (1.2 to 1.4 meters) high at the shoulders, the large males can reach a weight of 600 pounds (270 kilograms).

The male is a powerful, robust, courageous creature and, in defense, it can repel the attack of a lion.

Wildebeests are very gregarious and are seen mostly in large herds, although it is not unusual to see a lone male living a solitary life.

These animals are rather curious about what is happening around them.

When disturbed, they dash off a short distance and then wheel around to see what has frightened them.

In flight, they toss their heads from side to side, prancing about and throwing up their heels in a wild, erratic manner.

To the human onlooker, this performance is sometimes a bit ludicrous.

Due to the spread of civilization, annual wildebeest migrations probably are not on the same scale as they were in years gone by.

Nevertheless, they still provide an unparalleled sight.

Reportedly, on one occasion there was a buildup in a herd for three days, until the animals covered an area some four by eight miles (6 by 13 kilometers)!

According to one onlooker, grass that was three feet (one meter) high was then eaten down to four inches (10 centimeters) in just two days!

The annual trek of the wildebeest may cover several hundred miles in one direction from the southern Serengeti Plains in Tanzania northward into Kenya’s Masai Mara.

Generally, from July to September, these animals can be seen on the Mara Plains, walking and running, often in single file.

Normal everyday affairs, such as calving, continue throughout the migratory trek.

Why do wildebeests migrate?


Apparently, in search of food, although wildebeests have been known to leave areas of good grass and to enter those of poorer grass quality.

Some researchers have carried out extensive research on the basic kinds of grass found in the Serengeti Plains.

Their findings, along with those of others, seem to indicate that wildebeests prefer a type of grass with protein content equal to average hay.

When these grasses are sprouting, the animals wander along, grazing in a somewhat circular route.

And, when the cropped grass has again grown several inches, they return and graze it once more.

Other researchers feel that, besides this, there is some kind of inherent instinctive urge that keeps these animals on the move.

Others say that wildebeests do not feel safe in the high grass due to the danger of preying lions and so keep on the move in search of shorter grass.

Whatever is responsible for their migration, it is a spectacle worth seeing.

What does the future hold for them?


Daily, the demands of civilization and the destructive acts of some selfish men endanger, not only the wildebeest, but all the animals of the African plains.

The near extinction of the American bison makes us wonder what may yet happen to the wildebeest.

Ever-expanding human populations requiring more living space and farmland make it increasingly difficult for conscientious governments to preserve the environment needed by the marvelous creatures of the African plains.

Despite growing pressures, however, some are making tremendous efforts to protect this wonderful animals.

Through the protective measures of game parks and reserves, the wildebeests and other African animals may be spared the extinction already suffered by far too many living creatures.

It hoped that for many years to come, it will continue to be thrilling spectacle to watch—the annual migration of the wildebeests, the last of the great herds.