It’s been a tough year for the migrating herds so far this year. Those hundreds of thousands of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle who had marched down from Kenya and Tanzania’s northern Serengeti towards the end of last year found that the short rains of November had been poor and whilst some expected rain fell in December and January, by February things were really drying up.
If that wasn’t enough February is probably the most important month in the wildebeest calendar as the ‘synchronised’ calving takes place and around 250,0000 calves are born in a four week period. Along with the gnus, it’s peak time for zebra foals and gazelle fawns, not to mention lion and cheetah cubs and hyena and jackal pups.
It’s supposed to be a time of plenty when the herds can wander around the nutrient-rich short grass plains, following the rainstorms for the best grazing and water. Not moving far gives the mothers the best chance to produce the most milk and for the young calves to gather their strength before the main migration north in May and June. But not this year as 2 million large animals quickly ate all the grazing available in the vicinity of the Ndutu woodlands and then were forced to move north in search of new pasture.
Large scale movement of the herds at this time is dangerous for the calves for two reasons: they are not yet strong enough move such distances and still thrive and the very fact of moving means that more young are likely to be separated from their mothers. In March we tracked the big herds to north of Seronera,, way beyond where they should have been, and even after this long trek, the grazing there was worse than the plains they had left to the south. There were some truly miserable looking calves!
And it wasn’t just the grazers, 3 five month old lion cubs among the rocks of the Gol Kopjes were also hungry and forlorn. They’d been born at the right time of the year, in what should have been the right place but the once lively plans were now empty of the great herds and it’s always the cubs that suffer first.
Fortunately the ‘long rains’ started in the second week of April, only slightly late and the herds immediately smelt the rain and moved south and are now back on the short grass plains. The calves will be happy, as will the lion cubs, but undoubtedly in years like this, the survival rate will be lower than the average – it’s al part of nature’s way of maintaining a balance.
In spite of some struggling calves, the game viewing was as good as ever, a pack of 25 wild dog in Tarangire a particular treat and whilst most of the wildebeest may have been further north, the sight of tens of thousands of gazelle in the early morning light at Ndutu made for a stirring sight each morning, and the cheetah and the leopard were as photogenic as ever and these young cheetah eventually managed to dig out the hare that they’d chased into a burrow.
Elephant viewing in Tarangire was excellent and the rhinos in the Ngorongoro Crater very helpful, whilst Masai dancing at sunset in a remote rocky kopje will always make the hair stand up on the back of your neck —there is never a bad safari in Tanzania!
Join me to see the second part of Tanzania’s great migration, the river crossings, in September of this year, get in touch soon for further details – just 4 places left!
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