Unlocking the Wonders of the Great Migration

The Great Wildebeest Migration

Experience the captivating Great Migration, a highly coveted wildlife spectacle showcasing the circular migration of over a million wildebeest, accompanied by various other species, across the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. This timeless and continuously moving event is an extraordinary phenomenon for wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. As the herds traverse the Serengeti in search of grazing lands and water sources, they follow a clockwise route from the southern regions of Tanzania near the Ngorongoro Conservation Area to Kenya’s Masai Mara before completing their return journey towards the end of the year. The Great Migration is a dramatic display of life and survival, as thousands of animals become prey to predators while new life emerges, maintaining the balance of the ecosystem.
Witness the breathtaking journey of the Great Migration with Safaris With A Heart, a responsible and immersive tour company dedicated to providing unforgettable experiences while preserving the delicate balance of nature. Our expert guides will ensure you have a front-row seat to the captivating wildlife encounters, allowing you to fully appreciate the magnitude of this natural wonder. By choosing Safaris With A Heart, you contribute to the conservation of the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem and support the local communities that coexist with these remarkable animals.

What is the Great Migration

The Great Migration is the largest herd movement of animals on the planet. In fact, with up to 1,000 animals per km², the great columns of wildebeest can be seen from space.

The numbers are astonishing: over 1.2 million wildebeest and 300,000 zebra along with topi and other gazelle move in a constant cycle through the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem in search of nutritious grass and water. Guided by survival instinct, each wildebeest will cover 800 to 1,000km on its individual journey along age-old migration routes. Hungry predators including lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena, wild dog and crocs make sure only the strongest survive in this natural spectacle also known as ‘the greatest show on Earth.’

The circuit takes the animals from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (although not into the Crater itself) in the south of the Serengeti in Tanzania, up through the Serengeti and across into the Masai Mara in Kenya and back again. The journey is beset with danger: young calves are snatched by predators, the slow are brought down by prides of lion, brave beasts break legs on steep river slopes, crocodiles take their share of the stragglers, and the weak and exhausted drown.

The three groups of migrant grazers have different grass-eating habits: as one group eats the top of the tallest grass, the next group will eat away some of the medium-height grass, until finally it is almost completely eaten, and the herds move on. This means each group sticks to their own kind with only a small overlap in their distributions. The grasses of the plains have the highest protein content in the whole of the Serengeti, as well as being high in calcium.

It is unclear how the wildebeest know which way to go, but it is generally believed that their journey is dictated primarily by their response to the weather; they follow the rains and the growth of new grass. While there is no scientific proof of it, some experts believe that the animals react to lightning and thunderstorms in the distance. It has even been suggested that wildebeest can locate rain more than 50km away.

How the Great Migration moves throughout the year

Whether the wildebeest are dropping calves or attempting to cross rivers while avoiding predators, the migration is constantly on the move throughout the year. Read on to learn where the Great Migration tends to be during different times of year, or click on a month below to jump that season of the migration:

The Great Migration in January, February and March

Around January each year, the migration will be finishing a southward trek, moving along the eastern edge of the Serengeti and into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Here the plains are rich in nutritious grass, providing the herds with the best conditions for raising their newborn calves.  

Although there is no real beginning or end to this migratory circuit — other than birth and death — it seems reasonable to call the wildebeests’ birthing season the start of the migration. Around late January or February, the herds occupy the short-grass plains that spread over the lower northern slopes of the Ngorongoro Crater highlands and around Olduvai Gorge. Some 400,000 calves are born here within a period of two to three weeks, or nearly 8,000 new calves every day.

The Great Migration in April and May

After bearing their young in February and March, around April the wildebeest herds begin to drift northwest toward the fresher grass of the central Serengeti, drawing with them thousands of zebra and smaller groups of antelope. By May, columns of wildebeest stretch for several kilometres as the animals start to congregate by the Moru Kopjes, close to Dunia Camp, one of the few camps in the Serengeti that offers migration viewing at this time of year. Mating season begins toward the end of May and male wildebeest battle head-to-head. Throughout ‘the rut,’ the journey continues at leisure with the wildebeest, zebra and gazelle grazing as they go along.

Gradually, the movement gathers momentum and the wildebeest start to mass in the Serengeti’s Western Corridor. At this time of year, Ubuntu Migration Camp will have relocated to follow the migration and provide access to watch the wildebeest cross the Grumeti River. The herds form in huge numbers along the pools and channels of the river, which they have to cross in order to continue on their journey. This may not be as spectacular as the famous Mara crossings, but there are still enough wildebeest to provide the Grumeti crocs with a veritable feast. It is worth noting that May is low season at Ubuntu. Safaris at this time offer great value since there are relatively low numbers of tourists in the Serengeti, yet the wildlife viewings remain excellent. 

The Great Migration in June and July

During June, the dry season starts with large concentrations of wildebeest in the Western Serengeti and on the southern banks of the Grumeti River. Each migrating animal must face the challenge of crossing the crocodile-infested river — the first of many daunting and tense river encounters. 

As June moves into July, the hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra continue to head north along the western edge of the park toward an even riskier barrier: the Mara River in the north of the Serengeti. These river crossings are arguably one of the most exciting wildlife events on Earth. They usually begin at the onset of high season in July, but timing all depends on nature.

The Great Migration in August, September and October

By August, the herds have faced the challenge of crossing the Mara River and are spread throughout the Masai Mara’s northern region, with many remaining in the northern Serengeti. In years when the river is in full flow, the panic and confusion at the crossings — combined with waiting predators and surging currents — can cause massive loss of life. But, even in years of relatively gently flowing water, the crocs take their toll, not to mention the lions and other large predators that patrol the banks, ready to ambush any wildebeest that make it to the other side. There is no single crossing: at some spots, there are just a few individuals, while others see a mass of animals moving without break for hours.

By September to October, the main chaos has ended and the migrating columns have gradually moved eastward. However, they wildebeest will face the heavy waters of the Mara River once more as they prepare to cross once again for their return journey southward.

The Great Migration in November and December

After the East African short rains in late October and early November, the wildebeest move down from Kenya and into the eastern limits of the Serengeti past Namiri Plains, an area known for outstanding cheetah sightings. By December, they are spread throughout the eastern and southern reaches.

In the early months of the new year, the grasses in the deep south of the Serengeti are lush with rain. This draws the herds of wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of zebra and other plains animals. The cycle continues as the calving season starts once again.

Frequently asked questions about the Great Migration

The Great Wildebeest Migration is an awe-inspiring annual event that takes place in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and the Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya. Often called “The Greatest Show on Earth,” this natural phenomenon involves an enormous movement of wildebeest, zebras, and antelopes in search of fresh grazing lands and water sources.
The migration follows a clockwise direction, with wildebeest taking the lead and other animals joining in on this journey. The circular route begins in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in the southern part of Tanzania’s Serengeti, where wildebeest give birth to their calves between January and March. As the rainy season ends, the herds start moving northwest towards the fresher grasslands of the Serengeti.
Around June to July, the animals cross the Grumeti River in the western corridor of the Serengeti, facing dangerous river crossings and lurking predators such as crocodiles and big cats. Continuing their journey, they reach the northern part of the Serengeti and cross the Mara River into Kenya’s Masai Mara Game Reserve around August to September. After exploring the lush grasslands of the Masai Mara, the wildebeest and their companions begin their return journey southward, arriving back at the Serengeti by the end of the year.
Throughout the Great Migration, the animals face numerous challenges and dangers, with thousands becoming prey to predators, while thousands more are born, maintaining the balance of the ecosystem. This remarkable journey showcases the circle of life and highlights the importance of preserving natural habitats and ecosystems for the survival of these magnificent species.
The best time to witness the Great Wildebeest Migration largely depends on the specific events and locations you want to experience during this spectacular journey. Here’s a breakdown of the migration throughout the year to help you plan your trip:
  • January to March: Calving season takes place in the southern part of Tanzania’s Serengeti, near the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. During this time, you can witness the birth of thousands of wildebeest calves, attracting numerous predators.
  • April to May: The herds start moving northwest towards the central Serengeti, offering good opportunities for viewing large concentrations of wildebeest and their companions.
  • June to July: The animals face their first major river crossing at the Grumeti River in the western Serengeti. This can be an intense and dramatic event as they attempt to navigate the crocodile-infested waters.
  • August to September: The herds cross the Mara River into Kenya’s Masai Mara Game Reserve. This is often considered the peak season for the migration, as you can witness multiple river crossings and an abundance of wildlife.
  • October to November: The wildebeest begin their return journey southward, crossing the Mara River once again before heading back to the Serengeti.
  • December: The animals arrive back in the southern Serengeti, completing their annual migration cycle.
Remember that the exact timing of the migration can vary from year to year, depending on factors such as rainfall patterns and environmental conditions. It’s essential to consult with a reputable safari operator like Safaris With A Heart to ensure you’re booking your trip at the optimal time to experience the Great Wildebeest Migration.
Yes, wildebeest do migrate! The Great Wildebeest Migration, also known as the Serengeti-Mara Ecosystem Migration, is the largest animal migration on Earth. Millions of wildebeest, along with zebras, antelopes, and other grazers, undertake a cyclical journey each year in search of fresh grazing lands and water sources.
This annual migration involves wildebeest traversing the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and the Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya, following a clockwise route. They cross rivers, face numerous challenges, and encounter a variety of predators throughout their journey.
The main reason for this migration is the search for abundant grass and water, as resources in their original locations become scarce during certain times of the year. The movement of the wildebeest and other animals helps maintain the balance of the ecosystem by fertilizing the soil with their droppings, supporting the growth of new vegetation, and providing food for predators.
The Great Wildebeest Migration is a remarkable display of nature’s resilience and adaptability, showcasing the interdependence of different species and the importance of conserving natural habitats.

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