There are numerous documentaries highlighting different animal migrations around the world and I personally am enthralled each and every time I watch one. These migratory movements are generally to ensure the creature’s survival and so take on a very dramatic storyline.
Whale sharks off Mexico’s Caribbean coast follow the climatic patterns that sustain their supply of food and water. Others travel vast distances each year to instinctually return to their ancestral breeding or birthing grounds. These creatures migrate in great numbers not only because of their communal instincts, but because it provides safety from predators.
I have selected a few of my favorite migrations to inspire you to see something truly special that nature has to offer.
From August through September, the game preserves of Kenya and Tanzania (especially Amboseli, Serengeti, and Masai Mara) come alive with vast herds of wildebeest and zebra. Some 1.5 million animals traverse the veldt here kicking up dust clouds on their way north to follow the rains and the lifeline they provide.
All African elephants migrate in search of food, water, and habitat. Elephants in Mali cover more than 300 miles. While Mali’s African elephant population is relatively small, the country’s dry climate ensures its elephants must be in a near state of continual migration, in search of new drinking water.
Mali’s African elephants follow a counter-clockwise oval route dotted with water holes from the Niger River in the north to the Burkina Faso border in the south.
Every year some 200,000 Emperor Penguin follows a long, difficult, migration path to a place in Antarctica away from their normal home by the edge of the sea. Some 200,000 emperor penguins make a punishingly long, arduous trek from the Antarctic coast to inland laying grounds each year.
The father takes the egg inland and keeps it warm all winter while the mother is feeding in the distant ocean. The journey culminates in the hatching of thousands of chicks at the beginning of the Southern Hemisphere summer.
Thousands of endangered green sea turtles enact an extraordinary annual migration ritual by returning to the same remote stretch of Costa Rica’s northeastern coast where they were born in order to lay eggs of their own.
Like other sea turtles, they migrate long distances between feeding grounds and hatching beaches. Many islands worldwide are known as Turtle Island due to green sea turtles nesting on their beaches. Females crawl out on beaches, dig nests and lay eggs during the night. Later, hatchlings emerge and walk into the water. Those that reach maturity may live to age 80 in the wild.
Monarchs are especially noted for their lengthy annual migration. In North America, some 300 million monarchs make massive southward migrations starting in August until the first frost. A northward migration takes place in the spring.
The monarch is the only butterfly that migrates both north and south as the birds do on a regular basis. But no single individual makes the entire round trip. Female monarchs deposit eggs for the next generation during these migrations.
The Christmas Island red crab is a species of land crab that is endemic to Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the Indian Ocean. Although restricted to a relatively small area, it has been estimated that 43.7 million adult red crabs lived on Christmas Island alone.
During breeding season swarms of crimson-colored crabs head for the coast to lay their eggs in the ocean. On their way, they cross roads and dodge many obstacles and try to avoid dangers such as cars, pets, and birds. More recently they are facing a much larger threat from an exploding population of the yellow crazy ant, an invasive species accidentally introduced to Christmas Island and Australia from Africa.
The whale shark is found in tropical and warm oceans and lives in the open sea with a lifespan of about 70 years. Although whale sharks have very large mouths, as filter feeders they feed mainly, though not exclusively, on plankton, which are microscopic plants and animals.
They are known to migrate every spring to the continental shelf of the central west coast of Australia. The coral spawning of the area’s Ningaloo Reef provides the whale shark with an abundant supply of plankton.
In the summer, Andean Flamingos live in salt lakes and migrate to the lower wetlands for the winter. The cause of this migration from summer to winter is possibly due to the extreme aridity of salt-ﬂats during the winter. The path of migration is unknown, but it is thought to occur between the Chilean breeding grounds and the wetlands of central and western Argentina.
On the other side of the world in Kenya lakes supply flamingos with their primary food source, green algae (which, interestingly, gives the birds their coral-pink color). One of the major stops on their culinary tour is central Kenya’s Lake Nakuru. During the wet spring season, the shimmering shallow waters of the lake are completely obscured by thousands of bobbing, slender-necked, stilt-legged birds.
Every year, from October until December, 8 million Straw-colored Fruit Bats arrive from the Congo to feed on the wild musuku fruits in Zambia’s Kasanka National Park. This is Zambia’s secret bat spectacle and the world’s largest mammal migration.
Whirling and tumbling, the bats arrive in bewildering numbers, shrieking and colliding as they return to roost in the trees. But resting is dangerous. The bats are frequently attacked by birds of prey, such as fish eagles, while crocodiles snap up any unfortunate individuals that fall to the forest floor.
The Bar-headed Goose is a goose that breeds in Central Asia in colonies of thousands near mountain lakes and winters in South Asia, as far south as peninsular India.
The Bar-headed Goose is thought to be one of the world’s highest-flying birds, having been heard flying across Mount Makalu (at 8,481 meters (27,825 ft)) and apparently seen over Mount Everest (8,848 meters (29,029 ft).
Of course, this is just a small selection of animal migrations that happen every year. Let us know in the comments section which ones you’d like us to add to this list.