By Tristan Voorspuy
(Owner & founder of Offbeat Safaris, KPSGA GOLD safari guide and honorary Kenya Wildlife Service game warden)
The Mara-Serengeti ecosystem is unique for many reasons. It supports the last great wild herds of large herbivores left on the planet. Figures and estimates vary but there are well over 1 million wildebeest and maybe 300,000 zebra that migrate in two distinct areas and 200,000 other large herbivores add to the variety. Cape buffalo, giraffe, eland, topi, hartebeest, Impala, waterbuck, warthog, and two types of gazelle are very prevalent in the Mara and migrate much less if not completely sedentary, especially in the Mara ecosystem.
When you add the elephant and hippo as the largest herbivores to the extraordinary list of predators who feed on them all you have an awesome wildlife spectacle. Lion, leopard, cheetah and hyena are always there to provide often, bloody viewing.
The two migrations are distinct in that the smaller one called the Loita migration stays in Kenya and Offbeat's riding route follows its whole range, while the permanent Offbeat Mara Camp is in the middle of its orbit. It may be encountered on any month of the year. The greater migration, which is better known, does a large clockwise circle, which is constantly on the move. The northern range of both is the Mara ecosystem, bounded by the Mara River and Kipleleo Hill, which together form a natural barrier. Beyond this is no longer Masailand but farmland cultivated by the Kipsigis people.
The north of the Mara has a higher rainfall than most of the Serengeti, which therefore supports more bush, and a greater density of permanent herbivores. The big Serengeti herds come to Kenya in approximately June/July and move back and forth before finally departing back to Tanzania in late October. They are famous for their sheer numbers and of course their crossing and re-crossing of the Mara River to seek fresh pasture. To ride amongst them is bliss.
All the wildebeest calve in a three week period in February / March. The Serengeti herds on the flat plains in the south of their range, which is a great spectacle, and the northern herds on the Loita Plains to the north east of the Mara, from which they take their name. The whole range of both migrations is perhaps 150 miles north- south and 60 miles east-west.
Rainfall patterns throughout the year dictate the extent and timing of the wildebeest movements and are as variable as the weather. Therefore nobody can predict with any authority where they will be and when, apart from the above guidelines.
Suffice to say that the Mara with two distinct groups is likely to have thousands of animals in the area at any one time. There may be a preponderance of zebra or wildebeest but numbers are always impressive. Elephant also favour the northern areas for the extra bush and fodder that the higher rainfall brings. In conclusion therefore, there is no better or worse time to come. It may rain or be very dry but at 1700 meters (5500 ft.) the climate is always bearable and wonderful game viewing is nearly always guaranteed.