There are few things in life as stirring as seeing many animals make their way across the tundra, the plains of Africa or the seas of the world. Mankind can only stand in awe of some of the most magnificent animal migrations that take place around the world. If you are an adventurous tourist, make plans to take in one or more of these awesome sights.
The Serengeti in Kenya and Tanzania
One of the best-known and publicized migrations is that of the wildebeest, antelope and zebra that trek across the Serengeti plains. These animals trek in a clockwise direction around the ecosystems of the Serengeti and Masai Mara, which fall over Kenya and Tanzania.
Along the way, the animals engage in courtship, mating, giving birth and traversing some of the most dangerous real estate in Africa! If you do not plan your journey for the right time and place, you could end up looking at the plains with no animal in sight. Naturally, much of the migration depends on the rains that fall and the grass that depends on them, but this guide should help you decide when to visit.
January is the calving season, and the herds in Tanzania will slowly move to the southern parts of the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. This is also a time involving lots of predator activity since the young sadly make good targets.
February and March will find the herds in the same location, but farther to the south. The grass will be almost gone and the herds will prepare to move on. April usually marks the start of the northward migration, and by May and June, the vast herds some 40 km long will march across the plains into the central and western parts of the Serengeti.
July usually finds the herds in the west part of the Serengeti and heralds the much-vaunted river crossings where enormous Nile crocodiles lie in wait. August, September and October will find the surviving animals eating in the northern Serengeti and Masai Mara (best viewing is in the Mara), but the enormous herds will have broken up into smaller units. November will find the herds back in the Serengeti, and in December, the wildebeest will be in the southern Serengeti and calving will begin again.
The Okavango Delta in Botswana
One of the best places to view elephants is in the Okavango Delta. Here, elephants follow ancient migratory routes, and watching them from a mokoro or canoe is a magical experience. Elephants are residents all year round in the swamps, but these are mostly bachelor herds. Meanwhile, the breeding herds of females and their young are attracted to the swamps in search of water and fresh grass.
The flooding of the delta takes place at the driest time of the year, so elephants are drawn to the area by the abundance of food. These breeding herds follow popular routes between the Okavango, Chobe and Savuti regions.
The Seas Around Iceland
One of the best places in the world to see migrating whales is off the coast of Iceland. The combination of extended daylight hours mixed with both warm and cold sea currents cause Iceland’s shallow water fjords to host vast quantities of krill and the smaller fish that feed on it. This makes these waters a haven for the starving whales, many of which will have not eaten since leaving the northern waters to venture south during the winter.
During the short Arctic summer between April and September, you stand an excellent chance of seeing humpback, blue and minke whales. The peak season for seeing whales is in June, July and August. During these months, these massive mammals take advantage of the abundance of food that is available in the northern Atlantic Ocean. If you are lucky, you will also see large pods of orca in the same area, though they are more likely to be seen during the colder winter months.
Beaches of Costa Rica
The beaches of Costa Rica are some of the most critical turtle breeding places on earth, and viewing the ‘arribada’ (annual arrival) of thousands of turtles that have come to lay their eggs by the lights of the new moon is a sight to behold.
Costa Rica has four species of sea turtle that visit the Caribbean and Pacific coasts during the year. The olive ridley turtle arrives in thousands in the annual arribada to lay its eggs. The other three species are endangered, and far fewer females come to lay their eggs. These are the green turtle that lay on the beaches of the Tortuguero National Park. The leatherback turtle and the hawksbill turtle are so endangered and have such solitary habits that seeing their nesting is nearly impossible for the average tourist.
The best time to see green turtles is from July to October, with August and September being the peak time. Leatherbacks can be seen from February to June, with their peak being March and April.
To witness the arribada, travel to Ostional Beach. It is part of the Ostional Wildlife Refuge that is situated on the Nicoya Peninsula near Nosara. Choose a night about a week before the new moon in September or October, and you are sure to witness this phenomenal view. For a different experience, you could wait for 45 to 55 days after the annual arribada and head to the same beach at night to see thousands of turtle hatchlings dig their way out of the sand and head for the water.
New Zealand Rivers
Springtime in New Zealand heralds the arrival of hundreds of thousands of slender ‘glass eels,’ the transparent young of the longfin eel that is very common in the country’s rivers. These eels live in the rivers all year, and upon reaching a breeding size, they migrate downriver back to the sea.
What happens when they return to the sea is unclear, but it is thought that they swim for some six months in the warm waters around Tonga, where they breed and then die. The eggs that are laid in the sea hatch and the leaf-shaped larva float on ocean currents back to New Zealand, where they transform into the young transparent eels. They then make their way up the rivers to where they will spend the rest of their lives. The young eels can scale incredible obstacles and have been known to clamber over obstacles up to 40 meters high.