Big Cats and Calving of the Great Migration
This safari has been custom designed to provide the quintessential East African safari experience – the classic safari of most people‟s dreams staying under canvas and traversing wide open plains teeming with animals in amazing quantities. This safari is very different than the typical standard route that is offered. For starters the trip is focused on having the highest quality wildlife viewing and thus we do not rush around from park to park and waste time driving from one place to another, instead we spend dedicated time in the two areas that have the richest game viewing in all of Africa – Tanzania‟s Serengeti and Kenya‟s Masai Mara.
This safari is also unique in its quality of guiding. Your trip leader every step of the way is Bill Given, a wildlife biologist conducting revolutionary research with lions in Botswana. In Tanzania we have two of the finest guides in the country, they have about 45 years of experience guiding in the Serengeti between them and have had special experiences like spending 4 straight months leading a National Geographic film crew following the great migration. When we move to Kenya we will be guided by one of the original three Gold Level guides in the entire country.
This safari is also planned to avoid some of the pitfalls that occur in East Africa. We will spend most of our time in places where we can avoid crowds and have lots of sightings to ourselves in spectacular wilderness settings. Most of our time will be in areas where off road driving is permitted allowing for the best observation of animals. We will also have opportunities for night drives and walks for a diverse safari experience. The group size is limited to just eight participants. With eight guests we will have two vehicles allowing for lots of space and exclusivity to ensure the highest quality experience.
Of course any East African safari has to consider the movements of the Great Migration, the most famous movement of animals on the planet with over a million and a half wildebeest, zebra, and gazelles moving around the Serengeti Ecosystem. Without a doubt the prime time and most predictable time of year to see the migration is during the calving season from mid-January through mid-March. This is the time of year when the wildebeest are where they most want to be as the short grass plains of the Southern Serengeti area are quite special. Due to rich volcanic soils the grass here is rich in phosphorous and critically important to the wildebeest. If it weren‟t for the fact that the huge mass of animals depletes the grass they would likely stay in this area year round. Here the herds come to birth their calves and with 400,000 being born over roughly a three week period this is a riveting time to see the migration and it is the time of year when enormous numbers are most packed together allowing for the full spectacle of seeing animals to the horizon in all directions, literally tens of thousands at times.
This incredible concentration of animals, including the vulnerable young makes this the premier location and time to observe behavior of the big cats. The presence of the newborn can lead to much more daytime hunting than usual and because much of the area is flat open plains with short grasses hunts tend to be visible and predators easier to spot. This is a hot spot for cheetah and with the ideal open terrain there is a good chance that we may get to see the fastest running animal on the planet flat out sprinting after young wildebeest or the plentiful Thomson‟s gazelles. Nature makes it impossible to guarantee seeing hunting events and especially successful kills but the chances of witnessing such behaviors are at their greatest here during this time and on my last February visit I was fortunate to observe two start to finish hunting sequences – once with a cheetah and once with a lion. In addition to successful hunts I observed many other feeding events where we missed the kills but saw the feeding and the interesting interactions that occur between species once there is food on the ground.
The bounty of the years best grasses with the bumper food crop for predators means all the animals are in their best condition and tremendously fit at this time. The predators seem to know that the good times are coming because nowhere else have I seen so many cubs as the Serengeti in February. This makes it an excellent time to observe family social behavior. The key to seeing unique social behaviors and observing hunts is patience. As you have expert guide teams we will be placing an emphasis on spending special time with predators and rather then rushing from one sighting to another we will assess the condition and behavior of predators we find and if we think interesting behavior will ensue we will remain with them and allow time to unfold special events for us. While lion and cheetah are relatively plentiful in this part of the Serengeti there are leopards as well but they are more elusive as they stick to areas that have more cover so we will search rock kopjes and woodland edges to try and uncover these beautiful cats. Spotted hyenas are also common at this time and often display astounding hunting skills.
Interestingly because most travelers focus so heavily on seeing the migration during their East African safari Kenya‟s Masai Mara enters its‟ least visited time of the year. The year round resident animal populations in the Masai Mara region are ridiculously good and it is especially famed for its big cat densities. In the Mara we will stay in a private conservancy allowing us to have most sightings all to ourselves. Here we can pursue big cats off road and will be able to stay out on night drives increasing the opportunities to see lions and leopards during their more active time. This is the perfect complement to our time in the Serengeti.