The Wildebeest Calving has begun!
Africa Serengeti Migration may just be the greatest show on earth! Over a million wildebeest participate in the migration as well as hundreds of thousands of Zebras and Thompson gazelles. Relentlessly tracked by Africa’s great predators, these animals migrate in a clockwise fashion over 1,800 miles of the Serengeti ecosystem each year in search of greener grasses. There is no real beginning or end to the pilgrimage for these animals it is an endless journey in search of food and water that climaxes in a new generation of baby calves born on the southern plains in the early green season.
Many of our guests on our African Safari Tours this month witnessed wildebeest calves at the moment of birth. This never ceases to impress people as new life replenishes the plains in such vast numbers. The saying there is safety in numbers is exceedingly true during wildebeest calving. Instinctually, females join together from different directions to form huge living barricades providing added protection at their most vulnerable time, birth. One of the reasons the females gather on the short-grass plains is to be able to have the best view of approaching predators as there is little vegetation to hide their presence. The other reason is the mineral content of the short grasses, rich in magnesium and calcium which is critical to good lactation.
We witnessed several different female groups giving birth this year (it is typical for the male and female wildebeest herds to range separately during the calving season with the males located further to the north inside the borders of the Serengeti National Park while the female herds tend to distance themselves deep in the southern extremes of the ecosystem). One group ranging about a 1-hour drive south of Ndutu deep within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in the Matiti Plains area had its birth spike from about 10-Feb to 16-Feb. The largest female calving herd seen this year ranging about a 30-minute drive southwest of Ndutu had its birth spike from about 15-Feb to 22-Feb. We still have reports over the last few days of additional calving including a few on the eastern plains from Gol Kopjes through to Lemuta Hill. It seems the calving is trailing off now. The resident wildebeest herds in the Ngorongoro Crater usually calve earlier then their Serengeti counter parts. This year the herds in the Crater started calving towards the end of January into early February.
It is always a guessing game as to when and where the great wildebeest herds will drop their calves. Entirely dependent upon rainfall and grazing conditions, female wildebeest can hold off birthing for quite some time. In the most extreme dry years, we have seen the wildebeest calving being in early March in the Central Serengeti woodlands. More often then not though, the plains to the south of Ndutu and to the east of Lemuta Hill seem to be the preferred calving ground in February during ideal conditions.
In out last posting, the rains had been quite heavy towards the middle and end of December which finally drew the migration south onto the Serengeti Plains. In January and through the beginning of February we saw a general drying out trend which scattered all the migratory animals far and wide to seek the last patches of green grass and standing water. All of us here at Africa Dream Safaris were beginning to worry about the game viewing conditions (remember the old Serengeti adage that rain means game). Then, during the 2nd week of February thunder showers fell consistently all throughout the ecosystem. The rains continued during the 3rd week of February and intensified quite heavily on the 17th and 18th. The end result is the Serengeti Plains are a brilliant shade of green at the moment and game viewing is absolutely outstanding.
With the onset of the rains in February, we are now seeing large herds of wildebeest and gazelles beginning to shift from the southern plains to the eastern plains. There still remains heavy concentrations of migratory animals in the southern plains around Ndutu and Naabi but we are seeing more and more wildebeest, gazelle and zebra streaming to the eastern plains to Lemuta Hill, Nasera Rock and the Salei Plains. The Gol Kopjes at the beginning of the eastern plains are packed full of wildebeest at the moment.
The calving and the migration in general tends to steal the show in February but game viewing remains great for many other species in the Serengeti. Retina Hippo Pool in the Central Serengeti is quite full at the moment and guests have been getting some great pictures of hippos and crocodiles. The eastern game circuit from Seronera to Sametu Kopjes and further east to the Barafu Gorge and Kopjes has been rewarding with lots of good lion, cheetah and spotted hyena action. The scenery along this road is absolutely stunning, as well. Barafu Gorge has several large pools of water at the moment and has been a magnet for game throughout February.
Further to south there has been quite a lot of action on the plains between Kusini and Ndutu with plenty of lion, cheetah and hyena kills being reported. The Ndutu pride (we counted 16 total members including cubs) has been hanging around the big marsh as the wildebeest have been easy pickings when they come to the marsh to drink. There is lots of cover here for the lions to make a successful hunt. The Gol Kopjes area remains one of the best areas in the Serengeti for cheetah viewing and the Gol Kopjes lion pride has been spotted fairly frequently out on the kopjes.
We have had some very unusual sightings this February including an aardwolf on the road between Naabi Hill and Ndutu, a ratel (honey badger) on the Kusini Plains and wild dogs at Ndutu, which is something truly extraordinary. Wild dogs are rarely sighted within the Serengeti National Park though there is a small population in the Loliondo Game Reserve, which is adjacent to the Serengeti along its eastern border. Lastly, approximately 30 black rhinos (flown from South Africa) are scheduled to be released in the Serengeti over the course of 2010. The first rhinos are scheduled for release in the Lobo Valley of the Northern Serengeti in May. Currently, the Serengeti is home to only a dozen black rhinos, which are vigorously protected in the Moru Kopjes complex in the Central Serengeti. Hopefully, these magnificent animals can repopulate the Serengeti and once again roam the Serengeti.