Monday, March 28, 2011

No Gnus is Bad News

One of the most moving sights on this earth is the great wildebeest (gnu) migration of East Africa. Sitting in an open vehicle on Tanzania's Serengeti I was brought to tears.  Our guide had driven into the midst of the herd - two million animals plodding along, following the smell of the rain, knowing it would lead them to green pastures where they could raise their calves. The vast African sky was a blue dome and the only sound was shuffling hooves and the soft "nooo, nooo" of the animals as they flowed around us like a black river. In the distance was the high, hazy rim of the Ngorongoro Crater. Only here did the clouds linger, adhered to the mountains. I defy anyone to to remain unmoved by such a scene.

Prides of lions lazed nearby, some on their backs, legs pointing at the sky. Their bellies bulged and their muzzles were red with blood. So much food. How they must love it when this great herd passes their way. For a while hunting is relatively easy and they don't have to trek miles through the heat and dust in search of a meal. How fortunate for the human race that a small biting fly has preserved this wilderness for us. If not for the tsetse fly this part of East Africa - the Serengeti and the Masai Mara would be grazing land and the wildlife would be long gone. These little insects, whose bite feels like you're being jabbed with a hot blunt needle killed the domestic cattle which had no immunity to sleeping sickness and eventually the settlers gave up. Sleeping sickness is no longer a problem in either the Mara or the Serengeti but the tsetse flies remain, mostly in the wooded areas where they will swarm around anything large - like a landrover, making life uncomfortable for the occupants. Just remember that if it wasn't for these little flies you probably wouldn't be there in the first place.

The migrating herds are always in the region, so no matter what time of year you visit you will have a good chance of seeing them. Just remember that it is a natural phenomenon and the location of the animals depends on the rain and where good grazing can be found. However, here is a rough guide.  From November to May the animals mass in the plains of the southern and eastern Serengeti and it is here in February and March that they drop their calves. By the end of May the rains finish, the grass starts to die and the great herds head north west in search of better pasture and by July they begin to mass on the southern side of the rivers that form the border with Kenya's Masai Mara.

Then as if by an unheard signal they begin to cross the rivers. This is what you see on those amazing wildlife programmes on television. Wildebeest and zebras struggling through the swirling brown water pursued by enormous Nile crocodiles. Amazing to see, though not for the squeamish. You have to be very lucky too, as obviously there is no set day - it just happens, usually in July. Then between July and September the great herds settle for a while in the Masai Mara, though many always stay behind in the Serengeti.  Then as the rains start to fall once more in Tanzania in October/November the animals once again begin the long trek south, and so the whole cycle begins again.

So, now if you are interested in seeing this incredible spectacle you have an idea of how to time your trip. Remember though, that even if you do miss the great herds, both the Serengeti and the Masai Mara have so much more to offer. Both are a must for any wildlife enthusiast at any time of the year. For further information please call me - Peter Emery at Ucango Travel on 1300 822 646.

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