Southern Serengeti

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Southern Serengeti

 

The Serengeti-Mara ecosystem upon which the wildebeest trod consists of two eco-regions key to the migration - the Southern Acacia-Commiphora Bushlands and the Serengeti Volcanic Grasslands. The Southern Acacia-Commiphora Bushlands cover 88,000 square miles of territory, stretching from southwestern Kenya along the eastern edges of Lake Victoria and south to central Tanzania. The Serengeti Volcanic Grasslands cut through the southern parts of this larger eco-region and across the plain to the south and east.

 

For the wildebeest, it all begins on the Serengeti Volcanic Grasslands. The combination of fine volcanic soil and the cycles of wet and dry promotes the growth of the wildebeests' preferred forage. After the Short Rains of November and December, short grasses sprout for a brief time over the ashy volcanic soil. These grasses are at their richest in the southeastern corner of Serengeti National Park where it adjoins the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation area. This is where calving takes place and where the herd fattens up for the year's march.

The Ngorongoro Crater played a significant role in the creation of the short grass plains. The crater is what remains of a massive prehistoric volcano. Millenia of ashfall from that volcano, and from others in the region, some of which are still active, generated soil conditions suitable only for the hardiest grasses and shrubs. The short wet seasons and frequent droughts lead to brief growing seasons. By early spring, the landscape is reduced to dry brown stubble, too dry to support wildebeest and zebras, who depart the Serengeti Volcanic Grasslands for the Southern Acacia-Commiphoria Bushlands to the north and west.
 
When to Visit
The migratory herds begin to return to the region in January. Calving usually occurs in February, however predicting this event with precision is difficult, one made more difficult by its brevity. In the span of two to three weeks, wildebeest cows will give birth to several hundred thousand calves. While the local predators will take plenty, they cannot take enough to threaten the survival of the herds themselves. The sheer multitude of calves virtually guarantees that tens of thousands will live to adulthood.