The Great Wildebeest Migration
One of the most sought-after experiences for wildlife and nature enthusiasts, the Great Migration is the ever-moving circular migration of over a million animals across the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. The constant movement of columns of wildebeest, joined by a host of companions, follow an age-old route in search of grazing and water.
After calving in the southern part of Tanzania’s Serengeti near the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the animals journey through the Serengeti up and around in a clockwise direction towards the Masai Mara in Kenya, before returning once again near the end of the year. Along the way, high drama is always present, as thousands of animals are taken by predators and thousands more are born, replenishing the numbers and sustaining the circle of life.
What is the Great Migration
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.
When is the best time to visit Serengeti for the Great Migration?
From late June to August is the best time. This is when the Great Migration peaks (late June to August) making it arguably the best time to visit Serengeti. Depending on the movement of the animals and where exactly in the Serengeti National Park you are going on safari.
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:
Month by Month Serengeti Migration
June to August
– the best months to see the migration in Serengeti
In late June and July, the migration moves into north-western Serengeti. Thus, these are the best months to see the migration in the western region of Serengeti. And, in August you can see the Great Migration in northern Serengeti. This is when you may get to see the herds plunging into the crocodile-infested Mara River as they cross into Kenya.
September & October
– unpredictable time for migration safaris in Serengeti
Late September and October are the least desirable months to see the Great Migration in the Serengeti Park. In early September you might catch the last of the herds crossing the Mara River. As they move from Tanzania into Kenya. But, this isn’t always the case. As a general rule, it is better to visit the Masai Mara in September and October to see the Great Migration.
November & December
– good time of year to see the migration, but in the short rainy season
By November the herds are returning to northern Serengeti from the Masai Mara in Kenya. They usually linger in north-eastern Serengeti and migrate further south in December.
The timing of the migration does shift from year to year, so check when you are planning your safari. Talk to a safari expert for up to date advice.
January to March
– excellent time to see calves and young animals, but not the best for seeing the migration on the move
Calving season in Serengeti. The migration continues at speed in January. But in February the herds slow right down while mothers give birth in southern Serengeti. By March they are on the move again as the young calves gain strength.
April, May & early-June
– depending on the rains this can be a great time to see the migration, but it can be wet
The Wildebeest Migration moves to the western region of central Serengeti from about April to June. At first, the herds move more slowly because their calves are still young. By May the herbivores are speeding up as the young grow stronger.
But, April and May are the peak rainy season months so the road conditions are often poor. Many of the mobiles camps and lodges also close over the rainy season.
In early June the herds become more scattered and cover vast distances, crossing the Grumeti River.