The great wildebeest migration
The Great Migration through Tanzania and Kenya each year is the largest overland wildlife migration in the world. Huge herds totaling up to 2 million wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle move in an 800 km circuit clockwise through the Serengeti and Maasai Mara ecosystem in search of the best pastures and access to water. These grazers are followed by lions and other predators in their thousands, and waited for patiently by crocodiles in the Mara and Grumeti Rivers as the herd follows their inner compass – and each other – in their never-ending circular journey. And this whole animal migration is in turn followed by safari connoisseurs, wanting to witness some of the very best wildlife action nature has to offer anywhere in the world. This article gives you all the info you need to know before you go, and will help you plan your time watching the great migration. Bear in mind though that this great event is a natural phenomenon, and as such exact timings and locations are unpredictable.
Month by month: the Serengeti wildebeest migration
The short rains begin around early November. A little after this, in late November and December, the herds of the wildebeest migration arrive on the short-grass plains of the Serengeti. These are south and east of Seronera, around Ndutu, and include the north of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Dispersed across these plains, wildebeest, and zebra are everywhere – feeding on the fresh, nutritious grasses. They stay here through January, February and March, with most wildebeest calves born in a short window around February. Gradually they spread west across these plains, then around April, they start their great migration north.
By May the Serengeti’s wildebeest all seem to be moving north, migrating to seek fresh grazing and water. The area around Moru Kopjes and west of Seronera is then hectic with a series of moving columns, often containing hundreds of thousands of animals – joined by many zebra, and a scattering of Thompson’s and Grant’s gazelles.
Some of the migration then head due north of Seronera, but most are usually further west. Around June the wildebeest migration is often halted on the south side of the Grumeti River, which has some channels which block or slow their migration north. The wildebeest then congregate there, in the Western Corridor, often building up to a high density before crossing the river. The river here is normally a series of pools and channels, but it’s not continuous – and so whilst they always represent an annual feast for the Grumeti River’s large crocodiles, these aren’t usually quite as spectacular as the crossings of the Mara River, further north.
The wildebeest migration continues moving northwards during July and August, often spreading out across a broad front: some heading through Grumeti Reserve and Ikorongo, others north through the heart of the Serengeti National Park.
September sees the herds spread out across the northern Serengeti, where the Mara River provides the migration with its most serious obstacle. This river gushes through the northern Serengeti from Kenya’s adjacent Maasai Mara Game Reserve. Watching the frantic herds of the wildebeest migration crossing the Mara River can be very spectacular; there are often scenes of great panic and confusion. It’s common to see herds cross the Mara River north on one day, and then back south a few days later.
By October the wildebeest herds are migrating again with more accord: all are heading south, through western Loliondo and the Serengeti National Park’s Lobo area, returning to the green shoots which follow the rains on the short-grass plains of the southern Serengeti in November.