Wildebeest Migration In The Serengeti National Park : Everything To Know : Over a million animals move continuously in a circular pattern across the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem during the Great Migration, one of the most popular wildlife and nature experiences. In search of grazing and water, columns of wildebeest move continuously alongside a large group of companions. The animals travel through the Serengeti up and around in a clockwise direction towards the Masai Mara in Kenya after calving in the southern region of Tanzania’s Serengeti, close to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, before returning again toward the end of the year. As thousands of animals are killed by predators and thousands more are born, replenishing the population and maintaining the cycle of life, high drama is constantly present along the way.
A GUIDE TO THE WILDEBEEST MIGRATION
For the sake of conciseness, we have listed the most frequently asked questions about the migration below for tourists planning a Great Wildebeest Migration safari in Tanzania.
What is the Great Migration?
The Great Migration is the biggest animal herd movement on earth. In fact, the vast columns of wildebeest can be seen from space, with up to 1,000 animals per km2.
The figures are staggering: in search of nourishing grass and water, over 1.2 million wildebeest, 300,000 zebra, topi, and other gazelle move continuously through the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. Each wildebeest will travel 800 to 1,000 km on its own along historic migration routes, guided by instincts for survival. Only the strongest survive in this natural spectacle, which is also referred to as “the greatest show on Earth,” thanks to hungry predators like lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, wild dogs, and crocs.
The circuit transports the animals from Tanzania’s southern Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (though not into the Crater itself), through the Serengeti, across Kenya’s Masai Mara, and back again. The journey is fraught with peril: crocodiles take their fair share of the stragglers; young calves are snatched by predators; the slow are brought down by lion prides; brave animals break legs on steep river slopes; and the weak and exhausted drown.
As one group consumes the top of the tallest grass, the next group will begin to consume some of the medium-height grass. This process continues until the grass is almost completely consumed, at which point the herds move on. This indicates that each group stays within its own kind, with their distributions barely overlapping. In the entire Serengeti, the grasses of the plains have the highest concentrations of calcium and protein.
Although it is unclear how the wildebeest choose their route, it is generally accepted that they respond to the weather by moving in the direction of rain and the development of new grass. Although there is no scientific evidence for it, some professionals think that the animals respond to distant lightning and thunderstorms. Even the idea that wildebeest can detect rain from more than 50 kilometers away has been floated.
What time of the year is the wildebeest migration?
The migration is a cycle movement that takes place all year long. The migration into the Masai Mara typically begins in July and ends in late September, but the precise dates in this time frame are unpredictable until the first sizable herds of wildebeest actually congregate at the northern edge of the Serengeti as they approach the Mara. It is difficult to predict exactly when the final leg of the movement will begin because these initial herds have been known to congregate in one place for days on end without moving on to the Mara.
So when is the best time to visit the Serengeti and Masai Mara to see the migration?
Considering that the migration is a gradual event that happens over several weeks at different locations along the Serengeti-Masai Mara border, we would recommend mid-July to late August as the best time to view it. August is probably the best month to see the migration, if we were to focus even more on that.
Where do the wildebeest migrate to and from?
The wildebeest migrate from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara, and their route is determined by environmental factors, pasture conditions, and the seasons for mating and calving. Remember that the wildebeest migrate all year long in a generally clockwise direction, traversing vast areas as far as the Southern, Central, and Western Serengeti before making the arduous journey to Masai Mara in late July or early August. Around the end of October, they make their way back to the Serengeti, though this journey is less spectacular and more like a slow dispersal.
How do you see the wildebeest migration?
In the Serengeti National Park and Masai Mara Game Reserve, during a safari game drive in specialized vehicles driven by knowledgeable Focus East Africa Tour driver guides, you can observe the migration. Some lodges and camps can be up to an hour’s drive from the best viewing areas, so it may be necessary to access and station oneself at these locations during a day-long excursion in the reserve because there are several key points where the wildebeest cross the rivers. Most visitors who travel specifically to view the migration view the river crossings as the highlight of their trip and thus want to spend enough time there. These crossing points, which, by the way, tend to change slightly each year while remaining in a generally similar sub locality of the reserve, are also known as “crossing points.”
THE GREAT MIGRATION GUIDE: MONTH-BY-MONTH WILDEBEEST MIGRATION
Many people believe that the Great Migration only occurs once a year, but in reality, it is a year-round phenomenon that offers a variety of exciting and unique wildlife experiences throughout the year. The assumption that this is the only time of year that the wildebeest are on the move or can be seen is based on the fact that the river crossing is one of the most popular events of the migration and typically coincides with the peak Tanzania and Kenya safari season. This crossing typically takes place at the Mara River in late July or early August, with some of September thrown in, and once more when they head back south, in the final two weeks of October or early November. Consequently, the best times to observe the yearly wildebeest migration in the Masai Mara Given that the herds move in response to rain, which can fall early, late, or ‘on time,’ the following is a general breakdown of roughly where the herds are throughout the year.
December to April
Depending on the rainfall, the herds can be seen between the Ndutu and Ngorongoro plains, south of Serengeti National Park. Therefore, the far south of the Serengeti is the best location to be during these four months. It is calving season around February, and there is a good chance that you will see a wildebeest give birth. In search of suitable grasslands to provide food for the impending arrival of their young, the herds travel quickly. The likelihood of a predatory encounter is also high because lions and leopards are migrating to this area to hunt the young and defenseless calves. The herds start their northward migration at the end of March or the beginning of April, and many have already left and are in the central or even western Serengeti.
May to June
The migratory herds appear to be all heading north at this time of year in search of new grazing and water. As the wildebeest funnel up into the central and western Serengeti, huge columns of up to 40 kilometers (25 miles) in length can occasionally be seen. These columns, which frequently contain hundreds of thousands of animals, are joined by many zebra and a scattering of Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles. The Grumeti River crossing traditionally occurs in June, when the rainy season comes to an end. However, this depends largely on the river’s water level (where you might see crocodiles from the Nile). Compared to the Mara River crossings, this crossing is not quite as impressive.
July to September
At this point, the major Mara River crossing officially begins. The herds are closely examining the rivers’ tan waters as they approach the western Serengeti and Grumeti Reserves. The survivors’ herd starts crossing into Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve in August and keeps moving northward into the northern Serengeti. The herd fragments into smaller groups; nearly half of the animals remain in the northern Serengeti, the remaining wildebeest have crossed the Mara River, and the majority of the herds are in the Greater Masai Mara region, grazing on the area’s lush green grass before heading north toward the private conservancies (Mara North, Olare Orok). Watching the wildebeest herds cross the Mara River in a panic is usually one of the migration’s highlights.
October to November
The wildebeest herds are migrating more and more consistently; they are all moving south through western Loliondo and the Lobo region of the Serengeti National Park in order to reach the green shoots. Currently, the herds are visible in Kogatende and Lamai (in the northern Serengeti). The short rains usually start in November in a “normal year.” The herds are currently in the Serengeti, positioned in the lush, water-filled areas of the Lobo, Mbuzi Mawe, and Seronera Valleys. The wildebeest have gathered in the northern and southern Serengeti areas due to recent grazing, particularly in and around Lobo. Predators return, calving starts up again, and the cycle of life starts all over again.
TIPS FOR PLANNING YOUR MIGRATION SAFARI
- Book early—at least 6 months in advance.
Particularly for a Great Migration safari from June to October, lodges and camps fill up quickly. You can see the herds at any time of the year, but keep in mind that this is safari’s peak season and when the popular river crossings take place.
- Arrange your timing carefully.
Migration is a fluid, frequently erratic process. To make sure your expectations are met, it’s crucial to know where and when to go on a wildebeest migration safari. Choose and plan your timing based on the sights and experiences you want to have.
- Avoid the crowds.
During the peak, or “high season,” of safari (roughly June to October), there are a lot of people and vehicles visiting the Masai Mara National Reserve and Serengeti National Park. The private conservancies that border the Masai Mara provide seclusion, opulent lodging, and fantastic game viewing in sole-use areas. Additionally, you can participate in activities like night game drives, bush walks, and off-road game viewing that are not allowed in the main reserve.
There are Serengeti camps that are a little further from the migration hot spots, so you can easily access the action while also retreating to peace.
- Diversify Your Game Viewing
A wildebeest migration experience can be chaotic, unpleasant, loud, and dissimilar to a typical Big 5 safari. To enjoy some peace and a variety of game viewing opportunities, we strongly advise concluding at a lodge or camp that is set apart from the herds.
- Augment Your Migration Safari
Both the Masai Mara and Serengeti are easily combined, and each can serve as the main attraction of a longer safari itinerary. We advise combining the Masai Mara with Amboseli and Laikipia or expanding the Serengeti to include the Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangire, and Rift Valley Lakes. Even further afield, you can simply include popular destinations like:
- For the best gorilla trekking experiences in the world, visit Uganda, Rwanda, or the Congo.
- Beautiful tropical beaches and top-notch diving spots can be found in Zanzibar, the Seychelles, or Mauritius.
- Cape Town is known for its excellent cuisine and wine, fine art, fantastic shopping, stunning beaches, rich history and culture, and abundance of natural beauty.
- The largest waterfall in the world is Victoria Falls, where visitors can go white-water rafting, swim in Devil’s Pool, and enjoy tea on Livingstone Island.
GETTING YOU THERE
One of Africa’s most amazing natural wonders is the Great Wildebeest Migration, which Focus East Africa Tours has been a part of for more than 5 years and counting.
In a truly National Geographic moment, our expert driver guides follow the action as it unfolds while continuing to master the tracking of the migration. You will be in awe of the sheer number of wildebeest sailing across the Serengeti plains. We have you covered with a selection of migration tours and knowledgeable booking agents who can advise you on the ideal time to visit.
Ready to plan your migration safari? Talk to someone who has experienced it. To create a Wildebeest Migration safari that meets your specific travel needs, get in touch with one of our Tanzania-Kenya Safari Experts.