The Great Wildebeest Migration
The great wildebeest migration is one of the most spectacular animal migrations in the world ranked among the seventh new wonders of the world and referred to as “The world cup of wildlife”, the great wildbeest migration is a thrilling incredible experience displaying the greatest behavior of wildlife in the world which is experienced nowhere in the world but only in Serengeti-Mara ecosystem.
Wildebeest migration is one of the last mass terrestrial wildlife movements left of the planet involves the migration of giant herds of millions of wildebeests, zebras and gazelles through Serengeti and Masai mara ecosystems. The wildebeest move in a circular process from Serengeti national park and Masai mara national park and it is this national park where you can get an opportunity to witness the animals as they move with river crossing as the highlight of the experience. as the animals move they cross river Grumeti and river mara which are the highlights of the experience and a reason to why many tourists visit Serengeti national park and masai mara national park.
Serengeti national park is a protected national park famous for hosting a high concentration of animals situated in the northeastern region of Tanzania close to the border of Kenya, Serengeti national park stretches through an area of 14750 square kilometers and it is part of the Serengeti Mara ecosystem which covers mara and simiyu regions. The most highlight of the park is experiencing the great annual migration where animals move into plains of the park, apart from animals involved in wildebeest such as gazelles, zebras and wildebeests there are other animals such as lions, hyenas, elephants, buffaloes, black rhino, giraffe, Grant’s gazelle, impala, kongoni, topi, eland and many more.
Masai mara national reserve is one of the greatest wildlife reserves in Africa situated in the south-western region of Kenya, the park is one of the best wildlife viewing areas in the world stretching over an area of 1,510 square kilometers and it sits on the altitude of 1,500 – 2,170 meters above the sea level. masa mara national reserve consists of Mara river where river crossing of the wildebeests is witnessed.
Stages of the great wildebeest migration
The annual great wildebeest migration goes through stages as the herds move in their cycles from Serengeti national park to Masai mara national reserve.
The birthing stage of the migration is the start of the migration cycle and it happens in the period of January and February, the birthing occurs short grass- plains and results into the birth of over 300,000- 4,000,000 calves which provides a feast for predators such as lions, hyenas, cheetah, leopards and many more which are easily witnessed in dozens scattered to feast on the calves. During the birthing stage the herds spread over the lower northern slopes of the Ngorongoro crater highlands and also scattered around the Olduvai Gorge, the calves are born within two-three weeks of one another, eight months and half months after the rut stage.
Witnessing the birthing of calves is a spectacle and the newly born calves gain co-ordination and it is on feet 2-3 minutes after being born, the calf can also run with the herds in 5 minutes after being born and able to outrun predators such as a lioness. Unfortunately, many calves die in the first year of their life because of many factors such as predators who feast on them, malnutrition, fatigue/ disease and getting lost from their mothers. As the herds of wildebeest panic the calves wander off and lose track of their mothers, it is rare for them to find their mothers and it is also rare for a wildebeest cow to adopt any strange calf which makes the calves vulnerable to predators.
The start of the circle
The wildebeest migration starts at the end of the short dry season around March, as the grass plains of the southernmost Serengeti begin to dry out the herds begin their journey heading towards the western woodlands of Serengeti national park. The movement of wildebeests is dedicated by the weather and the growing new grass, the herds move to start to move from the plains Olduvai gorge heading west towards the small trio lakes of Ndutu, Masek, and Lagarja as they look for water and green grass. The herds are witnessed spreading in the plains of the west of Ndutu and in at the time of the first downpours of rain and distant thunderstorms the herds scatter on the plains of Ndutu.
The rut stage of the wildebeest migration starts as the rain starts falling and the herds also start heading north-west past the granite outcrops of Simba and Moru Koppies into the woodlands of the hilly county in the west of Seronera towards Lake Victoria. In the rut stage, half of the wildebeest cows are already mated in less than a month as they consolidate in the woodland and grass plains of the western corridor of Serengeti. Witnessing the rut stage is heavily influenced by the state of the moon and the 0full moon happening in the period of May/June is the best time to witness the most active of the wildebeest.
In the rut stage, the vicious fighting between dominant males and territorial males is witnessed, in the process of the fight little violence and serious injuries are registered by the fighting males as they fight for their females.
In the crossing stage of the wildebeest migration, herds start moving from western Serengeti heading north following the rains into Masai mara national reserve of Kenya. As they move the herds’ path is crossed by several rivers that become violet in response to rainfall in catchment areas thus being obstacles to the movement of the herds. From the southern Serengeti, the herds arrive at Mara River in hundreds and prepare to cross the river, for days the herds are seen wandering away from the water’s edge and eventually they chose a crossing point and they cross the river into Masai mara national reserve.
Once the herds of wildebeest are in the plains of Maasai mara the predators’ stage begins, in this period the wildebeests spend most of their time feeding and fattening and wandering around green pastures. They repeatedly move around the area grazing on the green pastures and the movement is more dedicated to the need for the food by the wildebeests. As they move they mate, give birth to a newborn and the calves are seen running in minutes which attracts predators to feast on the calves but when the herds move so far it becomes difficult for the predators to follow them.
The crossing circle
This stage of the migration takes place by late October when the first downpours of short rains start falling on the short grass plains of Serengeti, the rains fill up all seasonal waterholes and bring new flushes of growth. In the crossing circle, the herds move down through the eastern woodlands of Serengeti and among the animals, 90% of them are heavy with young calves, as the herds pass through the wooded country plains they scatter and spread once they reach the open plains.
Annual great migration cycle breakdown by months
Wildebeest migration happens in cycles and it is explained in dates months of the year and seasons as below
In the month of January the herds of animals involved in the wildebeest migration that is zebras, gazelles, and wildebeests are in Serengeti national park of Tanzania, Serengeti national park is not fenced which facilitates the free movement of these animals down south from the north eastern region to the southern Serengeti, lake Ndutu and Ngorongoro conservation area but they do not enter the crater. As these animals move, they break into mega herds of thousands in each group.
The month of January is apparently a calving season, in this season wildebeest give birth to young ones which is an amazing experience. After the presence of the babies the big cat action follows as big animals like lions, hyenas, leopards and wild dogs snatching away the vulnerable calves to eat them as their prey.
In the month of February the animals are sighted grazing in the southern sector, Ndutu and Ngorongoro Conservation Area, in this period the herds of animals remain in the south and in this period the rut is in a full swing and males are sighted jousting for the right to mate with their receptive females. This period the female wildebeests are heavily pregnant by the time they reach mara, Talek and Grumeti rivers which is an incredible sight to see.
The month of February is generally a mating period for the wildebeests.
In the month of March during the wildebeest annual migration, the animals are still in march and in this month most of the pregnant females have already given birth to calves. In this period animals start gathering as they prepare to for another episode of moving to another location.
In the month of April in the wildebeest migration, the herds of animals start moving northward on their journey, in this month most of the herds are already in the central and western region of Serengeti national park. This month is generally a rainy season and the animals stretch out to the western and central corridor of Serengeti as they run at Seronera
In this period the best accommodation options to stay so as to enjoy the spectacular wildebeest migration are Asilia’s Dunia Camp, Grumeti River Camp, Serengeti Serena safari lodge, Serengeti Sopa Lodge, Mbalageti Lodge which are both situated in the central Serengeti and western corridor.
In the month of the May herds of wildebeests, zebras and gazelles move in huge columns of 40 kilometers in length moving into the central and western region of Serengeti national park. This period is a dry season meaning the water holes in the plains of Serengeti have dried up which forces the animals to move towards Mara River.
Like April, the month of April is also a rainy season in Tanzania and the best accommodation choices to choose from are Asilia’s Dunia Camp, Grumeti River Camp, Serengeti Serena safari lodge, Serengeti Sopa lodge and Mbalageti Lodge.
In the month of June the herds of animals head for central and western Serengeti, the herds are sighted in these section as they get ready for the toughest part of their Odyssey. In this month the weather is cooler and dry which means a few bugs are present as the animals move a cloud of dust is created which is a great opportunity for taking spectacular pictures. In this month the herds of wildebeests spread from the western corridor through the heart of Serengeti, as they move one group tends to move west into the western corridor crossing Grumeti River before exiting Serengeti national park and entering Singita Grumeti reserves. From the reserve the herds heads to Ikorongo game reserve on the Serengeti’s western corridor before arriving in Kogatende in July.
In this month the best accommodation facilities to stay to enjoy the sight of wildebeest migration are Grumeti River camp, Faru lodge, Sasakwa lodge, Sabora lodge, Mbalageti Lodge and Kirawira lodge situated in Western corridor.
The month of July is the great action season as it is the period when the herds of animals start their river crossing expedition, in this period the herds reach western Serengeti and Grumeti reserves close enough to the brown waters of the rivers. The other herd heads to north of Serengeti crossing through Seronera, Lobo to Bologonja River near the eastern border of Serengeti with Loliondo reserve at Kleins.
In this period the best accommodation to stay at which will offer you amazing sights of the wildebeest migration are Kogatende permanent lodges, Serengeti Lamai and Sayari Camp.
In the period of August, the herds of wildebeests are present in the northern Serengeti at Kogatende, Kogatende is an exceptional destination to witness the migration of wildebeests and in this exact period, they start crossing into Masai mara national park of Kenya. In the moment of the wildebeest, the herds follow the local rain which result into herd splitting and moving either north or south and most time move in both directions in the same day. As a tourists wanting to witness the migration, you need to cross over to Kenya from Serengeti for the spectacular experience.
In the month of September in the wildebeest migration cycle the herds split into smaller groups and some of them remain in northern Serengeti while others cross over to Masai mara national reserve, in this month the wildebeest are in the same area as in the period of August and in September they arrive in northern Serengeti and linger around kogatende and the Lamai Wedge in between.
The best place to stay in to spot wildebeest migration in this period include mobile camps such as Kimondo in Lamai Wedge, Alex Walker’s Serian, Serengeti Under canvas, Ubuntu, Chaka and Serengeti safari camp. Permanent camps where to stay at include Sayari and Nomad Lamai Serengeti.
The period of is the best period to enjoy witnessing the wildebeest migration in Masai mara national reserve, in this period mara conservancies are less crowded which gives a great chance to see thousands of animals. In the period of October the animals are in Kogatende and Lamai the northern areas of Serengeti and in Masai, in late October there is light amounts of rainfall received which pushes the herds south and the herds are witnessed crossing over Mara River, the herds are seen gathering at water areas and it is an opportunity to witness the predator action.
In this period the best accommodation choices to stay at include Sayari, Nomad Lamai Serengeti which are permanent camps and Ubuntu, Serengeti safari camp, Olakira, Kimondo, Alex Walker’s Serian which are mobile camps.
Like October, in the period of November the herds begin their second migration to the fertile of Ndutu plains from the south, this month experience cool weather conditions as the rain begin to rain and the grassland are extra green which attracts the movement of the herds. When you are on the safari to witness the migration it is better to keep in mind that it rain either in the morning or late and in November the herds spread out.
In the period of December the wildebeests’ cluster in the north-eastern Serengeti particular and southern Serengeti, in this same period calving of the animals begins and the predators who want to feast on the newly off springs start coming closer to the herds.
Best time to go for a wildebeest migration safari
Wildebeest migration safari is a spectacular sight to see and the best time to go for sightings of this world’s spectacle depends on the time/ season and the place where the animals are crossing through.
- January to March is a low seen and a calving time for the wildebeests, in this period/season the animals are sighted in the southern region of Serengeti national park in Tanzania. This same period is also an intense big cat action and a rutting period which again takes place in the southern sector of Serengeti national park.
- June to August is a high season and the wildebeests are spotted around Grumeti river
- July to October is a high season and in the migration cycle it is a river crossing for the animals where the wildebeests and other animals zebras and gazelles crossing from Northern Serengeti to Masai mara.
- August to October is also a high season and the wildebeest migration is sighted in mara conservancies of Masai mara national reserve.
Points to note when choosing the best period of time to go for wildebeest migration
- wildebeest migration is a year-round circular journey
- the bulk of the migration takes place and it is sighted in Serengeti national park in Tanzania
- River crossing of the wildebeest is more of a less predictable occurrence but it generally occurs from July to October.
- The best chance to see the river crossing involves staying a whole day at the site of Mara River and for photographers, the best time is to take spectacular shots is mid-day.
Where to stay while on a wildebeest migration safari
While on a safari to encounter the great annual wildebeest migration, the perfect accommodation facilities to stay are picked according to where the migration is happening at a certain season that is either in Serengeti national park in Tanzania or Masai mara national reserve of Kenya. Accommodation in Serengeti national park is offered by famous mobile camps that is Serengeti safari camps and &beyond’s Serengeti under canvas which are erected at set locations throughout the year, these mobile camps are moved to the spot where the herds of animals are at 2 or 3 times a year.
On the route where hundreds of zebras, wildebeests, and gazelles pass there is also other mobile camps where you can stay, these mobile camps operate in seasons that is jolly to November and December to march. The other seasons these camps are closed, these camps include Alex Walker’s Serian, Asilia’s Olakira, Ubuntu and Kimondo. Not all tourists are extra adventurous, some are scared of staying at mobile camps, and if that is your case then you can stay at permanent lodges such as Ndutu lodge, Kusini lodge, Serengeti Serena safari lodge, Serengeti Sopa Lodge, Grumeti River Camp, Kirawira lodge, Mbalageti Lodge, Serengeti Lamai, Sayari Camp and many more.