They say it’s one of the greatest natural shows on earth… oh, it is – it really is!
Nothing can ever quite wipe the vision of a bazillion wildebeest rushing across the Mara River, half-panicked and yet somehow totally in-tune with some deep-seated instinctive drive to cross to the other side (something they seem to share with their equally-curious-and-laughable distant cousin, the chicken)…
There are a number of theories around the behavior of the gnus, zebras & Tommies, and why they spend vast amounts of energy, let alone risking life and limb, on this annual migratory madness. The facts agreed on by all include the point that the soils of the sweeping Serengeti plains in the south have more mineral nutrients, thus are more favorable for calving mothers – ergo, you find the wildebeest and co. down in the south during calving time round the beginning of the year. Another undisputed fact is that these animals need to follow the good grazing, being bulk grazers, and so will follow the rains around the Serengeti & Mara region ensuring they are first on the scene for the green flush that follows these seasonal rains.
Some things, however, are not as clear as that – like, why the animals sometimes cross a raging, croc-infested river one morning only to swim back in the opposite direction that afternoon? Or why the animals migrate at all and do not stay within the areas that have good year-round grazing and good mineral content to the soil? (Some wildebeest and even more zebra and Tommies, end up staying in one area for a season, only to link up with the masses when they next pass through that area and join the migration again.)
There are also curious inconsistencies when the migration reaches its zenith in the Mara plains north of the Maasai Mara Reserve – here the migrating animals from the south (Serengeti crowd) meets up with the animals coming from the north-east (Loita group). What happpens next is rather unexpected, as some of the animals trade tribes and instead of returning back the way they came after the rains move off, they instead cross over and head off with the other grouping of animals into wholly new territories… these Romans are crazy!?
All in all, the Great Migration, one of the greatest natural shows on earth, is a classic blend of weird and wonderful, of instinct and randomness – a blend Mrs M. Nature seems all to familiar with. Nothing is as it seems in the wilds, and this is apparently just as it is meant to be…