The Great Migration 2015 Update!

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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

Andrew

Contact us at  info@journeyintoafrica.com for help in planning your perfect safari.  Bespoke safaris arranged for from 1 to 14 people – the options, and opportunities, are endless!

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The Serengeti National Park

Those of you who have spent time on safari with me will not be surprised by my final choice: no. 10 out of 10 on my Top Safari Destinations is Tanzania’s magnificent and awe-inspiring Serengeti National Park!12764

Where: Situated in north-western Tanzania, bordering Kenya’s Masai Marra to the north which is part of the same ecosystem, and reaching almost to Lake Victoria to the west and contiguous with the Ngorongoro Conservation Area to the east, the Serengeti  itself is over 5,500 sq miles but its complete ecosystem is very much larger.    You can fly in and out of the Serengeti via around a one hour scheduled flight from Arusha, but I generally advise driving one way in and flying out at the end, to see the people and cultures of northern Tanzania and take in a number of its other great wildlife destinations.

Why: Simply unmatched for sheer numbers of wildlife and spectacular and varied scenery.  The largest migration of large animals on earth is to be found here with an estimated 1.4 million wildebeest, 400,000 Thomson’s gazelle, 300,000 zebra, Grants gazelle, topi, impala and giraffe amongst many others.  This attracts plenty of predators and the Serengeti is an excellent place to watch lion, cheetah, leopard, hyena and jackal during the day.  Irrespective of the wildlife, including terrific birding, it’s the sheer size, scope and beauty of the Park which makes it so memorable.

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When: The Serengeti is dominated by the great migration, which is a year-round search for food and water, so the great herds can be found at any time of the year, but there are easier and more dependable times than others.  Most people choose to avoid the ‘long’ rains of April and early May and the ‘short’ rains of November into December, and the most dependable times for finding the big herds are on the short grass plains of the south in December to May and the dry season grazing grounds to the north in July to September. Having said all of that, one of the most exciting times is the movement off the plains during the wildebeest rut, in late May to June, when the herds form massive groups and collect on the edge of the woodland.  The difficulty is that the timing of the movement is weather-dependent, making it a matter of luck when you’re arrangng a safari many months ahead.  Calving time for the wildebeest is in February, when around 250,000 calves are born in a four week period, making February and March one of my favourite times.

Where in the Park: Again, determined by the great migration, but in general in the early part of the year, December to May you should be on or around the short grass plains to the south, where the wildebeest calve, whilst in the dry season of July to September you should be in the northern Serengeti, where you can see the zebra and wildebeest crossing the Mara River and braving the crocs and strong currents.  The western corridor is good in the June to August time and central Serengeti around Seronera is particularly good in the dry season.  Don’t forget, being in the right part of the Serengeti at the right time of the year is critical.  It seems a lot of visitors are told ‘it’s all the Serengeti’ or even that Kenya’s ‘Masai Mara is part of the Serengeti’; that might be true in ecosystem terms,  but in terms of wildlife viewing, you should maximise your chances by being in the right place – you really don’t want to be a four hour drive from the heart of the action!

How long: You need at least 3 nights in the Serengeti, 5 if you’re going to visit more than one camp and area.  You could however spend a lifetime here – I’ve spent over 2 years of my life in the Serengeti and there are many, many places I have yet to see!

What to do : Game viewing by safari vehicle is the main activity here and it has to be remembered that walking is not allowed in most areas of the park.  Game viewing by 4 x 4 vehicle undoubtedly gives the best opportunities to game view the wildlife and to see as much of the  park as possible, but if you want a real wilderness walking experience there are now just a very few operators with a licence to guide walking safaris within certain areas of the park.  If you do this, you will see no one else for the whole of your walking safari – exclusive wild Africa at its best!

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My View:  Simply the best!  The variety, the scope and the sheer numbers of animals is unmatched.  The Serengeti has become more popular, so you don’t want to spend your time there in a large lodge, game viewing along the popular roads, you need a small camp and do your game viewing in the remoter areas – then you are in for an unmatched treat!  This takes planning and attention to detail but you will have seen the ultimate wildlife destination!

For more information on the Serengeti and Tanzania’s other destinations visit: www.journeyintoafrica.com

Or to see the Serengeti in the right way, contact us on : info@journeyintoafrica.com
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A beautiful place….

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Just been trying to get two tents for three consecutive nights at one of the remote and lovely little camps in the northern Serengeti for September this year and it’s already proving a problem!   Why? Well it seems word is finally spreading that the northern Serengeti is just the same as Kenya’s Masai Mara but without the crowds!  Beautiful scenery, big prides of lion, great herds of eland and when the migration is there, hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra!

Then of course there’s the opportunity of seeing river crossings where the migration braves the waters and crocs of the Mara River, and all of this in an area about the same size as the Mara but with perhaps a tenth of the bed space, or less, all in small, even tiny, personal camps.

Go before everyone else does!  If you need help, get in touch at andrew@journeyintoafrica.com

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