The crunching of grass being torn from the ground accompanied by the gentle stumping of hooves. Not just one mouth feeding, but thousands. The sound amplifies. Thousands of tails swishing away flies. Many more thousands of hooves kicking up some dust as they trod along grazing on new shoots of green. How the plains can support such a mass feeding frenzy is mind boggling. And it doesn’t seem to end. For kilometres across the horizon, they stream on ceaselessly. Such is the magnificent migration of wildebeest in the Serengeti. A spectacle of nature that I was privy to.
The first summer rains fell on the parched savannah during mid-October, slowly turning the golden landscape into a carpet of green. Like clockwork, the blue wildebeest make their way southwards from their winter grounds across the Mara and into the vast plains of the Serengeti. By the time I had visited in late November tens of thousands made it to the central areas of the great wildlife refuge. And many more were on their way until they are expected to reach over a million by February. And they aren’t alone – plains zebra gather in their thousands.
As a regular visitor to Kruger, South Africa’s flagship park, I came in with high expectations, and was not at all disappointed. The species variety may not be as diverse as Kruger, but the sheer volume of wildlife in Tanzania’s Serengeti outweigh any such comparison. Not that the Serengeti lacked variety. Thompsons and Grants gazelle (not present in South Africa) were plentiful. Maasai giraffe (not a separate species, but having distinct patterns to its southern cousin), red hartebeest, topi, impala, buffalo, elephant as well as the usual predators can be seen.
Over the clicking radios, guides communicate with each other sharing sightings of cats, hoping to satisfy their client’s safari dreams. On the one hand, having paid top dollar to be in a prestigious location such as the Serengeti, you’d probably want to get your money’s worth of animal sightings. But I was only too glad to have the annoying static silenced and to spot game without the help of other vehicles. Fortunately, it was only the beginning of the migration season, so tourist loads were low. It was even quieter than average due to ill-informed tourists cancelling their safaris over Ebola fears. But that was good news for us. The sparse crowds meant we were able to savour at least some of the lion, leopard and cheetah sightings without being joined by other safari vehicles.
The Serengeti is one of those destinations on the bucket-list of most, if not all, wildlife lovers. For many, it’s considered a dream destination, visited only once in their lifetimes. I wouldn’t consider myself a luxury traveller, and the Serengeti was more accessible and affordable than I assumed. Choosing to travel in the low season had its benefits, and the animal sightings were worthy. It’s one of the few destinations that I would choose to visit again, at the sacrifice of experiencing a new destination (and that, for me, is rare!). Perhaps it’s the grand spectacle of mass movement that allures us. More so, when the setting is as unsophisticated and remote as the Serengeti.
Read Part 2 for more on my Tanzanian safari where I visit Ngorongoro, and a review of the lodges I stayed at.