Be part of the best kept wildlife secret in Kenya; the Loita migration. The whole world has heard of the Great Wildebeest Migration of the Serengeti, but very few know about the Loita migration. So what are the differences between the two migrations and do they ever meet? We find out below.
The Serengeti migration follows a journey from the Ngorongoro Conservation area in Tanzania and move in a northeasterly direction until they reach the great Mara river in the Masai Mara reserve in Kenya. This path takes about a year there and back, give or take a few months that are dictated by rainfall. The Loita migration on the other hand is bound to Kenya, and is concentrated around the Loita plains that lie just north of the Masai Mara. The Loita wildebeest traverse ol Kinyei, Naboisho and the Olare Motorogi Conservancy.
The numbers game
The Loita migration is considerably smaller than the Serengeti migration. Compared to the almost-two million wildebeest and plains game that take part in the Serengeti migration, the Loita migration consists of roughly 100 000- 250 000 wildebeest and other buck. These numbers are rough estimates as it varies over time. Unfortunately, there has been an observable and steady decline in the numbers of the Loita migration. This is due to human-animal conflict where fencing for agriculture has hindered the movement of these animals. These are still big numbers, but nowhere near the size of the Serengeti migration.
By the time the Serengeti has made its way north towards the Masai Mara, the Loita migration has crossed the Loita plains multiple times, moving from east to west continuously chasing the rainfall that leaves grazing grass for the herds and their young. Around mid-July to August, as the Serengeti migration starts crossing the Mara river, the Loita migration has settled in the same area, although they are never really absorbed by the Serengeti migration but simply occupy the same landscape. It’s important to remember that the Mara river crossing is not an isolated event. The herds will cross and re-cross the river multiple times. This is true for both migrations. Only around March will the Loita migration return to their ‘home’ while the Serengeti migration will begin the long trek south again.
What’s in a name?
The two migrations follow similar styles to each other, this is because a wildebeest is a wildebeest, no matter where they come from. The life of a wildebeest follows the same pattern; the calving season and the rutting season. The calving season occurs in both groups around January, February and March (weather dependent of course). Only once the calves are strong enough and the herds begin migrating does the mating season begin. The motivation for the migration is simply a need for fresh grass, clean drinking water and minerals found in the soil that help keep the herd strong enough to bear young and keep them alive.
Patterns and predators
It is often incorrectly assumed that predators such as lion, hyena, cheetah, wild dogs and leopards (to name a few) follow the herds as they move from place to place. In fact, they stick rather closely to their resident territory, feeding on the animals that never migrate and often just happen to come across the ‘travelling buffet’ of migrating wildebeest. This is true for both the Serengeti and Loita migration predators.
Armed with this knowledge, the ‘best’ place to observe the migration question is simply a matter of personal choice. Whether there are 100 000 or two million animals on the move, the predator-prey interaction will be the same. One can’t possibly observe all the animals at once, so perhaps a smaller migration would mean a better chance of observing unique wildlife experiences. If budget is an issue, then the Loita migration is perhaps a more affordable option for you. You can track both migrations with the HerdTracker app which will assist you in finding a Great Migration safari to meet your expectations.