The great Serengeti wildebeest migration occurs every year from July through October in an ancient mass movement of wildlife. Seeing it is on many wildlife enthusiasts’ bucket lists.
Millions of wildebeest – along with some zebra, gazelle, eland, and impala – move across Northern Tanzania and Kenya. Tourists from all over the world book safaris, eager to take in the magical sight — a crucial driver of tourism in the region.
But sometimes Mother Nature — and human activity — can have unintended consequences. Here are 12 things you didn’t know about the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti, and the role it plays in the Kenyan and Tanzanian tourism business.
Sources: StandardMedia.co.ke, ExpertAfrica.com, TanzanianOdyssey.com, AfricaOdyssey.com, MaasaiMara.com, SavetheSerengeti.org, NA.UNEP.net, AllAfrica.com, BBC.com, GlobalSojourns.com, WHC.UNESCO.org, Gov.uk
The Wildebeest Migration was named as one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World” in 2006 by a jury of experts polled by ABC TV. Collectively, the migration, the Maasai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya, and the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania were all selected as a group to receive and share the honors of the title.
The majority of the Wildebeest Migration occurs in Tanzania’s 5,700-square-mile Serengeti National Park, making up 97 percent of the Serengeti ecosystem (the name for the region that the migration covers). Meanwhile, Kenya’s Maasai Mara Game Reserve represents the northern boundary of the Serengeti, and makes up 3 percent of the Serengeti ecosystem.
Though studies have only been conducted in the past 50 years, it is estimated that over 2 million animals participate in this annual migration. The wildebeest, numbering at approximately 1.7 million, make up the majority of the migratory mass, but are joined by some 400,000 Thomson’s gazelle, 300,000 zebras, and 12,000 eland. The migration is the largest and most species-diverse large mammal migration in the world.
For those more intrigued by lions, hyenas, and cheetahs than wildebeest — the predators are noteworthy players throughout the migration. Particularly in January and February, between 300,000 and 400,000 wildebeest are born within two to three weeks of one another. The enormous number of young calves provides a veritable feast for predators, and hundreds of hyenas and dozens of lions can be found in the area. Crocodiles, on the other hand, make their play at the Mara River when wildebeest try to make it across. Thousands of crocodiles live in the water.
The Wildebeest Migration helped to secure Serengeti National Park status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The UNESCO website says, “In the vast plains of Serengeti National Park, comprising 1.5 million hectares of savannah, the annual migration of two million wildebeests plus hundreds of thousands of gazelles and zebras – followed by their predators in their annual migration in search of pasture and water – is one of the most impressive nature spectacles in the world. The biological diversity of the park is very high with at least four globally threatened or endangered animal species: black rhinoceros, elephant, wild dog, and cheetah.”
More than a status symbol and tourism magnet, World Heritage sites receive funding from UNESCO in order to preserve their integrity. Sites receive emergency assistance in the event of immediate danger, technical assistance, professional training, public awareness building, and international cooperation for conservation. The migration is key to Serengeti’s status, and thus the Tanzanian government benefits exponentially from UNESCO’s assistance and support.
In 2012, tourism generated an estimated $1.2 billion revenue in Kenya and $1.3 billion in Tanzania. Of the $1.3 billion in Tanzania, $550 million was generated just in the northern safari circuit alone — the country’s epicenter of the wildebeest migration.
As more people are drawn to the Serengeti, tourism revenue continue to grow. Hotels and safari camps across the region are full during the time the wildebeest are nearby. The majority of visitors come from the U.K., U.S., Australia and France.
Many western governments advised against non-essential travel to most areas of Kenya recently due to the high threat from terrorism. “Despite the advisories, which seem to be ignored, most tour companies have booked citizens from those (western) countries. We will remain fully booked until early November,” said Kenyan hotelier Stephen Mpaayei, manager of the Keekorok Lodge in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve.
Thanks to the high demand, access to the Serengeti has greatly improved in recent years to allow more tourists to view the great migration. But while this translates to higher tourism revenue for Kenya and Tanzania, it also means that more fences, roads, and human traffic have a detrimental impact on the wildebeest population.
Due to increasing human population density, urbanization, expanding agriculture, and development of areas surrounding the migration region, the wildebeest migration has been in drastic decline in recent years. Many scientists are concerned that the wildebeest migration will suffer the same fate of other large animal migrations that have collapsed – such as the nearly extinct American bison across the North American Great Plains, or the Saiga antelope population that once traveled across Central Asia and now numbers less than 200,000.
Because the wildebeest migration patterns are directly related to rainfall, migration dates vary as weather conditions demand. In November 2013, for instance, the wildebeest made an unexpected return to Kenya, rather than continuing on to Tanzania as usual. Drought in Tanzania caused them to turn back due to the lack of pasture, and professionals in the region noted many of the animals were thinner than normal. Kenya benefited, experiencing a tourism boom. Visitors remained on the Kenyan side of border to view the herds, while Tanzania saw its tourism numbers decrease.
Stay up to date with all the latest news that affects you in politics, finance and more.
Jul 27 2021
Jul 20 2021
Jul 28 2021
Jul 19 2021