From dust to mud and back again

July 2008

As the dry season kicks in and some parks quickly dry out, the Northern sections of the Serengeti are receiving rain. This influences all our safari planning at this time of the year, if the Serengeti is part of the trip. When will the Western Corridor dry out forcing the herds North and just when will Seronera finally dry out, driving some herds up to the Klein’s Gate Area? Will the North Eastern sections receive more rain than the North? Just when will the first crossings of the Mara River start? It is a dramatic movement but not as simplistic as the makers of those television programmes would have you believe!

At Ndutu lions were quite easy to findAt Ndutu lions were quite easy to find

Cape Teal at Lake Magadi SerengetiCape Teal at Lake Magadi Serengeti

This year the majority of the migrating herds had moved north a few weeks early so this meant that the large groups of visitors that flock into the Western Corridor in July were mostly disappointed. (See my June Newsletter). In fact I bumped into a few visitors at Suyan Camp that were absolutely livid! They had been sold a safari to Tarangire and the Western Corridor by an agent in the UK that had told them that they would firstly see thousands of elephants in Tarangire and then the Serengeti Migration in The Western Corridor. The Tarangire advice they had received was totally wrong and I said so! When they got to the Western Corridor most wildebeest had left! I tried to calm them by explaining the truth about July in the Serengeti - it is very hard to say just where the big herds will be, as luck would have it they were only a 2 hour drive away from huge herds that were on the move northwards - I sent them for a full day out to find the herds and they were happier. If the Agent had reversed their safari by sending them to the Western Corridor first, then Suyan and to finish Tarangire they would have had a better trip and seen more elephants – which seemed more of a priority to these guests than seeing the Serengeti herds. Perhaps availability was the issue.

The Beests start to cross the Mara RiverThe Beests start to cross the Mara River

Half way across the Mara River and one calf faltersHalf way across the Mara River and one calf falters

The lesson is – do some research and don’t always take the Agent’s word for it! Or the guide’s for that matter. People selling a safari will, if stuck with availability at lodges/camps as a major issue, send you where there is space and that may not be the very best location! Remember guides generally go with you - Agent’s don’t. The Agent doesn’t sit around the camp fire with you and listen to your frustrations! Don’t get me wrong - there are many fine agents out there that work closely with guides and try their hardest to get you into the very best locations for a given time but every year is sutbly different. Alas, I’m afraid that there are also many ‘sellers of’ and ‘experts on’ safaris that really don’t care too much where you end up - they just want to make a sale!

Lets go for itLets go for it

Most make it acrossMost make it across

In July and August (the dry season everywhere else) Lake Victoria and the highlands in Southern Kenya create rain storms that are quite dramatic and this drives the Serengeti migration Northwards from Lobo and the Grumeti River in search of good drinking water and fresh grass. From the air one can see the streams of wildebeest filing northwards and the centres of tourism in the North, namely the Wogakuria and Mara River areas are overrun with 100’s of thousands of these enigmatic beests, they charge across the landscapes with seeming abandon. They fill the air with their grunts. In July some males are still mating with the few females that are not pregnant and as only around 25% of the males impregnate the 500,000 plus females competition is rife.

Some of these 500,000 plus pregnant females with not get back to the place where all these migrating Serengeti wildebeest are born - the southern plains. Enough will and this spectacle of birth in January and February each year is one of Nature's most wonderful scenes. If you have never experienced it – you should make the effort.

I would rate the crossings of the Mara river as another not to miss wildlife experience but as with all these very special wildlife events more time invested equals a better chance of more success. Always visit at least two Serengeti locations in July - you don’t want to miss the herds now do you? Don’t travel to either the Southern Plains in mid January – early March or to The Mara River area from late July – early September for only a few days. Try to stay for at least 4 nights. 6 nights in two locations is always better.

In July I took guests to Arusha, Tarangire and Serengeti National Parks and one visit to the Ngorongoro Crater. We stayed in Ngare Sero Mountain Lodge, River Trees Country Lodge (both near Arusha) Oliver’s Camp in Tarangire, Plantation Lodge near The Ngorongoro Crater, Ndutu Lodge to break the journey north to Suyan Camp and Sayari Camp on the Mara River.

Walking near Suyan Camp in JulyWalking near Suyan Camp in July

A face to rememberA face to remember

July is a beautiful month as the landscapes haven’t dried out too much. The herds are moving and the movement is the event to witness! You should move as well, remember - two Serengeti locations in July! August is much easier to predict.

Happy safaris
Paul.