Every year around 1.5 million wildebeest, 350 000 Thompson’s gazelle, 200 000 zebra, eland and other ungulates (hoofed animals) participate in what has been called the greatest show on earth, The Great Wildebeest Migration, in search of grazing and water. Towards the end of short dry season around March, the short-grass plains of the southernmost Serengeti begin to dry out and the wildebeest continue on their journey, heading towards the western woodlands.
The Great Migration has been listed as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa. Not only does it offer incredible views of the plains dotted with huge herds of wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle, but the rivers are often infested with large Nile crocodiles lying in wait. Some of the best safari opportunities in the world are found here, across a landscape made up of volcanic grasslands and vast plains interrupted by rocky outcrops, rivers, and forests. Visiting the right area in the right season will treat travellers to astonishing sightings of this natural phenomenon.
The Great Migration generally moves in a clockwise motion through the Serengeti Plains in Tanzania and the Masai Mara Reserve in Kenya, and then back again forming one big circle. The herds visitors can see is dependant on the time of year and location they are visiting.
These migrational herds also attract the attention of some of the continent’s most renowned predators, ensuring that if travellers are following the Migration; big cats, crocodiles, and hyenas will never be too far behind.
When is the Great Migration?
In January and February, the annual rains hit the Serengeti allowing the female wildebeest to give birth. By March or April, the area has dried out and become desolate again so the massive grouping of animals are forced to move northwards towards Lake Victoria where they begin the mating season. After this, they head towards the Maasai Mara in June or July and this is where most people witness the sight of thousands of animals galloping across the plains and crossing the notoriously, crocodile-infested Mara River.
River crossings are best seen between July and September. The animals cross back and forth between the two areas during this time. In September, the animals cross back into the Serengeti. After September, there is still a tail end of the migration which lags behind the main herds. If you are late, you can still hope to catch the last of them. The animals then go back to the Serengeti plains from where they started at the beginning of the year.
In Tanzania, the best time to witness the migration is divided between two different periods. In the Southern Serengeti it is in February and March. The animals are grazing and can be seen in their immense numbers. It is also a good time to see the animals dropping their young. In contrast, river crossings are best seen between July and September in the northern Serengeti.
This great spectacle of nature is an iconic safari option for avid travellers, nature lovers and those who want a little more from their African experience.