Unusual Animal Migrations


From millions of red crabs scurrying around Christmas Island in Australia to innumerable monarch butterflies traversing over 4 000 kilometres from Mexico, these are some of the most incredible animal migrations in the world


The Red Crab Migration, Australia

The thought of 45-million red crabs scurrying through the streets of a faraway island may seem like a nightmare to some, but for Christmas Island in Australia, it’s their biggest tourist attraction. Every year, at the beginning of the wet season, between November and December (coinciding with Australian summer), the indigenous red crabs make their way from the cool island forests to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean for mating and spawning season. With millions of crabs ‘on the loose’, roads and shops often need to be closed. While the migration can be witnessed all over the island, to get the most out of your experience, it’s best to book a guided tour, which starts at 3.30am and usually lasts three and a half hours (indianoceanexperiences.com.au). As the breeding sequence is dependent on the cycles of the moon and the ocean tides, it’s hard to confirm an exact date ahead of time, but for the most precise predictions consult the Christmas Island Tourism Association before booking a trip. christmas.net.au

The Minneriya Elephant Gathering, Sri Lanka

During the dry season, from July to October, hundreds of Asian elephants descend on the man-made Minneriya reservoir in the Minneriya National Park. Due to the receding water, lush greenlands are exposed and this area becomes the playground for herds of elephants – up to 400 elephants at a time – for four months. Elephant numbers are at their highest between August and September, when sightings peak. The elephants are most active around sunset, which gives visitors more time during the day to explore the further reaches of the park and spot some of its other inhabitants, like leopard, sloths, sambar, spotted deer, purple-faced langur monkeys and macaques. minneriyasafari.com

The Great Wildebeest Migration, Kenya

Probably the most famous migration of all – also known as nature’s oldest pilgrimage – the great wildebeest migration sees around 1.5 million Wildebeest, as well as zebra and antelope, migrate from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in Kenya, quite literally in search of greener pastures. The animals trek for four months, from July to October, charging across the Mara River and onwards for better grazing. The fast-flowing river is deep and dangerous, and those not captured by lurking predators during the journey, can meet their untimely fate by drowning in the river. There are many ideally located safari lodges in the Maasai Mara National Reserve that are perfectly positioned to marvel at this wonder of untamed Africa. maasaimara.com


The Fruit Bat Migration, Zambia

For around 90 days from late October to mid-December the largest mammal migration on earth takes place above the plains of the Kasanka National Park in Zambia. Here, more than 10 million straw-coloured fruit bats migrate from the Congo annually, attracted by ripening wild fruits, like the local musuku and mpundu. An enchanting sight to behold, viewing is exclusive to a few hectares of the Mushitu Swamp Forest in Kasanka National Park. With sunset and sunrise the best times to view this phenomenon, the park’s amazing private treetop hides make the perfect location to observe these nocturnal creatures as they descend on the forest. kasankanationalpark.com


The Monarch Butterfly Migration, Mexico

About 100km northwest of Mexico City lies the town of Angangueo, home to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the meeting place of millions of Monarch butterflies. Every year these butterflies make the 4000km journey from the US and Canada to Mexico in search of cooler weather, before returning home in the spring. The butterflies head to Mexico in November, beginning an eight-month migration, during which time four successive generations are born and die. The best time to see this spectacle is between January and February (by March they start heading home), and a one and a half hour hike through the reserve will get you to the best viewing points, surrounded by pine and oyamele trees. visitmexico.com


The Synchronous Firefly Gathering, Tennessee

Not a migration per se, but more of a mating ritual, seeing synchronous fireflies gather in droves in Elkmont in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park in Tennessee is still a sight to behold. Also know as ‘lightning bugs’ due to their distinct flashing lights, synchronous fireflies are one of 2000 species in the world (and one of 19 found in this specific park). Once a year, between late May and early June, these fireflies mate for a two-week period. During this time male fireflies flash their lights four to eight times in succession for 10 seconds, and interested female fireflies respond by lighting up too. Because fireflies need total darkness to breed, the skies of the park twinkle beautifully as these creatures conduct their mating dance. mysmokymountainpark.com


The Humpback Whale Migration, South Africa

Humpback whales head south between May and November, making their annual migration from the Polar regions through the warm waters of Mozambique and Madagascar to the icy waters of the Cape to breed. The height of whale-spotting season in Cape Town is during the months of September and October, with Hermanus on the east coast known as one of the 12 best whale-watching locations in the world. Viewing terraces at the Old Harbour and Gearings Point offer some of the best sightings, and while spotting whales from land is easy enough during peak season, if you want to get up close and personal, a whale-watching boat tour is well worth it. hermanustourism.info


The Flamingo Migration, Tanzania

Over 75% of flamingoes in the world are born in Lake Natron in Tanzania. Here, in the Arusha region in the north, millions of flamingoes flock to this soda lake to breed each year. Flying en-masse from Lake Bogoria in Kenya, the beautiful pink birds return to Lake Natron due to the alkalinity of the water (which promotes the growth of cyanobacteria that they feed off of) and its ideal temperature. The best time to see the flurry of pink is between October and December, the latter being the peak of egg-laying season. tanzaniatourism.go.tz


WORDS Lynette Botha


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