POSTED ON 25th November 2015 BY Ollie Blackwell
It’s one of the greatest wonders of the natural world…
The Great Wildebeest Migration is an exciting story that starts when 1.5 million wildebeest make their way from the Serengeti to the grasslands of the Masai Mara each year in search of pasture.
If you’re hoping to plan a safari holiday around this spectacular event, you’ll need to know what happens during the year, where you should travel to and when you’ll want to be in place to view this exciting event.
So read on and enjoy this guide to the Great Wildebeest Migration…
The great migration is the result of the wildebeests following the rain, in search of pasture. But the migration is more than just the great search of water – it is the life of the wildebeest.
The most exciting part of this annual migration takes place during July to November, when herds of wildebeest as well as zebras, and gazelles follow instinct as well as water across Northern Tanzania and Kenya in what is considered to be one of the greatest wonders of the natural world.
As these massive herds make their way to the Masai Mara, they cross the river Mara, where ferocious crocodiles wait.
Nomadic creatures, the wildebeest continually make their way across the land in search of pasture, year after year. Their journey starts in the south of the Serengeti during the rainy season and continues into the north for the dry season as the herds make their clockwise migration around the Serengeti and Masai Mara ecosystems.
At the start of the rainy season, the annual cycle begins as early as November or December, when the vast herds move into the Ndutu region and Ngorongoro Conservation area, in the south of the Serengeti.
The wildebeests are here for the grass. The plains are rich and green, and the wildebeest are here in time for the calving season, where half a million calves are born at a rate of about 8,000 a day. This is an especially dangerous time as predators close in, in search of easy targets.
Once the rains end, the land dries fast and the herds will head north for the green pastures of the Masai Mara.
The last of the rains behind them, by April the herds usually begin their northward journey. During this time, huge lines of wildebeest up to 40km in length can often be seen as the herds make their way through the central and western Serengeti. The wildebeest also use this time to breed.
The herd continues to move westward towards the river in search of pasture as the ground becomes increasingly dry. The forest along the way is full of danger as predators closely follow the herds waiting for an opportunity to strike.
While this journey usually happens in May and June, last year (2014) an exceptionally dry year drove the herds to make being this journey the end of March, which had them arriving at the Mara River as early as the end of May.
The herd usually makes its way through the Serengeti’s Western Corridor into Singita Grumeti Reserves, a private game-viewing stronghold by June or July.
River crossings are the highlight of the wildebeest migration, and is something that everyone should see at least once in their life. Monster crocodiles can be found at the river waiting, and the huge herds thundering into the water is always a breathtaking scene – so be sure to capture some good photos.
The wildebeests will gather at the river, often waiting there for as long as possible, holding out until they can no longer wait before they stampede across the infested waters. Not all of them will make it across.
By late September and into October, the wildebeest herd stumbles up into the northern Serengeti and crosses into Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. The first zebra herds usually arrive in the northern Serengeti by early July, with the wildebeests following hot on their heels.
They break into smaller groups and graze on the Masai Mara Plains, keeping alert for large predators such as lions who have been eagerly awaiting their arrival. This year there were huge river crossings in September, one crossing had a herd of an estimated 100,000 wildebeests all crossing at the same time! By late September the herds were just starting to move south.
Late October is usually the beginning of the rains and the migration will make its way back into the rejuvenated Serengeti to graze on the short, rich grass. By December, the herds return past Seronera, and make their way on towards the calving grounds once again.
When planning your African safari, it’s important to keep in mind that the migration can vary significantly from year to year. The wildebeest don’t keep to a strict pattern year after year; their migration varies depending on the rain.
The herds are constantly in search of grass, when they choose to leave one location for the next depends largely upon their food supply.
Additionally, the wildebeest don’t have a natural leader and while most of them travel in one large group, there are many smaller herds as well. Often they take off in different directions.
With this in mind, it’s also important to remember that planning a safari around a spectacular event like a river crossing can be difficult. The exact dates that the wildebeest will cross is impossible to predict.
Of course, by consulting with safari planning specialists, you’ll be able to get a pretty good idea about where you should be, and what time of the year is best for different events.
This can mean the difference between a trip where wildlife sightings are few and far between, and being able to witness one of the world’s most spectacular wildlife events. Get a consultation with one of our team of experts right here, and we’ll help you map out a plan that’s centres around the breathtaking wildebeest migration.
Or if you’d prefer to do some more research on your own first, then get yourself a free copy of the African Safari Field Guide next. It’s a 37-page guide on the subject written by our expert team here at Safari Drive HQ, and includes on all sorts of safari advice like how to camping safely, cross rivers, and spot wildlife.