Wildebeest calving season in the Serengeti

The first reports came in last week from the guides in the Serengeti; the Great Migration has started calving! Is now the very best time to be in the Serengeti? Many experts believe this is the finest time to witness the herds. Travel now and the Serengeti is lush and green, alive with wildlife and pumping with action. The calving season will last for the next six weeks, with approximately 8,000 young wildebeest born every day in the peak calving period. Witnessing a newly born calf capable of running in a matter of minutes is one of nature’s most incredible events.

It is also now that the Southern Serengeti and Western Ngorongoro Conservation Area (around Lake Ndutu), host the highest concentration of predators anywhere in Africa. Huge lion prides, spotted hyena clans, and high concentrations of cheetah patrol the vast short grass plains. With approximately 500,000 wildebeest born in a matter of months, there is a huge amount of predation.

The concentration of predators guarantees a healthy wild environment with the full plethora of Africa’s big game on show. The cats and the wildebeest herds however are the main attraction with the next two months regarded as the finest times to witness cheetah hunts anywhere in Africa. The lion prides here are equally impressive. Found virtually everywhere, prides often number over twenty individuals and are ruled by some of the most impressive males to be seen anywhere.

Other predators include huge numbers of spotted hyena, jackal as well as the prize spots – honey badger, aardwolf and the lesser known cats, caracal and serval.

So why are the herds here?

Drawn by the countries short rains, November and early December saw the Migration move down from the Northern Serengeti to the short grass plains of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Each and every wildebeest you ever see was born here.

Due to the volcanic fertility of the soil, enriched by hundreds of years of volcanic eruptions from various Rift Valley volcanoes (notably Oldonyo Lengai recently), the grasses are particularly rich in minerals, including phosphorous. Phosphorous is found in every cell in a wildebeest body. No other mineral is more important and there are no richer phosphorous grazing grounds than the southern short grass plains; the perfect place to raise young.

The last few weeks has seen the herds spread out with wildebeest stretching all the way from the southern Serengeti to the south of the Loliondo reserve and Western Ngorongoro Conservation Area. For the next two to three months they will stay in the area, constantly moving and following the rains in the search for new shoots and the richest grasses. All the while, they will be raising their young, under watchful eyes!

This high risk game continues until the dry season starts – when a combination of lack of food and  permanent water means the herds face no alternative but to migrate north to the lush grazing grounds of the northern Serengeti and Kenya’s Masai Mara. This ‘Great Migration’ will take place anytime throughout April, May and early June with the herds finally reaching their destination from the beginning of July onwards.

Where to stay?

Calving season is the time of the Serengeti’s mobile camps as none of the Serengeti’s super luxurious camps have good locations for the herds. Our favourite, Alex Walker’s Serian, has the best location from which to view the herds from December through to late March.  This truly exceptional mobile camp has a quieter location away from the busier Ndutu region but remains within easy reach of the prolific big game areas. Loved by us for its charismatic hosts and exceptional guides (Alex himself and John Moller),  Alex Walker’s Serian offers game driving, village visits to some of Tanzania’s most remote tribes as well as walking safaris and trips to the Ngorongoro Crater. There is also the opportunity for clients to set off on private mobile expeditions down onto the Rift Valley and around the northern shores of Lake Eyasi.

Marc Harris is Managing Director of Africa Odyssey.

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