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The Great Wildebeest Migration
Often described as “The Greatest Show on Earth”, the annual migration of over a million wildebeest and around 300,000 zebra is a natural phenomenon like no other. Following the rains, the wildebeest and zebra travel in search of lush grass and grazing lands whilst moving in a clockwise rotation up through the Serengeti. They will spend a couple of months in the Masai Mara before heading back to Tanzania in time for calving season – all whilst trying to evade the many predators en route.
This handy guide shows you where the best seat in the house will be throughout the year, to make the most of this breath taking spectacle, showcasing the largest movement of mammals on Earth.
Baby Bonanza: January - February
The wildebeest start their year in the south of the Serengeti National Park in an area called Ndutu. It is here that you can witness a birthing event like no other. Collecting within the centre of a herd, female wildebeests tend to give birth in the same 2-3 week period. This behaviour of calving en masse gives an individual calf a higher chance of surviving its first few weeks. This is one of the few times of year the wildebeest remain in one place. It is a great opportunity to see the herd all together and to take advantage of the excellent game-viewing in the area, including the birth of zebra calves that also tend to follow the wildebeest’s movements.
The Emerald Season: March - May
During these months, the Serengeti is at its most green and abundant and the wildebeest move north towards the centre of the Serengeti and settle before heading northwest to start their great migration. The seasonal rain means the grazing is plentiful, allowing calves to grow stronger before their big journey. The herd separates and spreads, making the most of the food available to them. In May time, the herd begins to form the long characteristic marching columns of the migration as they make their way north. This is a fantastic time of year to explore the Big 5 reserve; view awesome game whilst enjoying the quieter and less expensive off-peak season!
Conquering the Western Corridor: June – July
With the rainy season over, the wildebeest head northwest in search of new grazing areas, moving together as a herd, using their ‘rocking-horse’ running stance they reach speeds of up to 40mph. This is a brilliant time to watch the famous river-crossings as the herd begins to attempt to reach the opposite bank of the notorious Grumeti River, offering a good opportunity to catch a glimpse of the giant Nile crocodiles that take advantage of the influx of prey.
Frontier River Crossings: August – early September
With the migration well underway, the herds drive up towards the Masai Mara in Kenya. You can expect to see some spectacular crossings as the herd is faced with the Mara River, as well as enjoying the fantastic holiday weather. This is one of the few times of year the wildebeest remain in one place. It is a great opportunity to see the herd all together and to take advantage of the excellent game-viewing in the area, including the birth of zebra calves that also tend to follow the wildebeest’s movements. We would advise to book early as this once in a lifetime experience is sought out by many, eager to see this remarkable exhibition of animal behaviour.
The Mara River Crossings: September – October
By this time the herd have usually crossed over to the Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya. The plentiful grazing and fresh water here usually keeps the herd satisfied until the end of October. The perfect holiday weather and promise of breath-taking game viewing again makes this a popular time of year for the surrounding lodges, so book in advance. Remember to keep a sharp eye out for any hungry lions trying to pick off any wildebeest that wander from the safety of the herd!
The Short Rains: November – December
The herd begin to head back south to feast on the fresh green shoots of the Serengeti, once again forming the long columns characteristic of the migration. They will continue to the southern reaches of Ndutu ready to calf and start the life cycle and migration all over again.
Of course, as a natural phenomenon, the exact route of the migration cannot be truly predicted. The wildebeest’s movements depend entirely on the quality of grass, standing water and weather conditions of a given area. These factors are unpredictable at the best of times, even more so with the effect of climate change. This guide is here to give you an idea of what the wildebeest do throughout the year and why they make their epic journey. However, it is important to remember that the migration is only one aspect of the amazing Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. Even if you miss the herd you will still be in an area offering some spectacular game viewing!