Great Serengeti Migration
The annual Wildebeest Migration, accompanied by large numbers of zebra, and smaller numbers of Grant’s gazelle, Thompson’s gazelle, eland and impala, is one of Africa’s most breathtaking experiences. No where in the world is there a movement of animals like this, over two million animals migrate from the Serengeti to the Maasai Mara. These move in an annual pattern which is fairly predictable. The Serengeti hosts the largest terrestrial mammal migration in the world, which helps secure it as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa and one of the ten natural travel wonders of the world, taking in two different countries and making time for birthing, courting and mating on the way.
When is the Wildebeest Migration
Home to Africa’s richest resident population of wildlife, you can visit the Masai Mara and Serengeti at any time of year, but if your goal is to see the wildebeest migration then you need to be in the right place at the right time.
The Great Migration is a natural phenomenon, as old as the land itself. Seasonal rainfall is the trigger that sparks the mass movement of mega herds in pursuit of the sweet, new grasses that wildebeest love. Since nature sets the schedule, planning a successful migration safari takes experience and excellent local knowledge.
The migration takes a full year to complete a single cycle. That means you can see it throughout the year but because the animals cross huge distances, certain highlights only happen in specific months. For instance, the mass birthing of calves takes place between January and March in the southern Serengeti, while the dramatic river crossings occur between July and August in the far west.
Planning a migration safari? See when to go to see what in our travel guides:
JANUARY: The herds are in Tanzania’s Serengeti, moving south from the north-east region and into the southern Serengeti, Ndutu area and Ngorongoro Conservation area – which often means out of the confines of the (unfenced) national park itself. It is calving season – prepare yourself for lots of wobbly babies… and lots of heartbreak as predators swoop in.
FEBRUARY: The good grazing of the Southern Serengeti, Ndutu and Ngorongoro Conservation areas means the herds remain in the far south.
MARCH: They are still in the south but the grasses have all been munched up, the last calves born and the herds are starting to gather in preparation for the next leg.
APRIL: Make sure you are on the southern Serengeti plains – the wildebeest begin their northward journey, and many have left already and are in the central and even western Serengeti.
MAY: Wagons roll! The massed herds are on the go, huge columns of up to 40km in length can be seen as the wildebeest funnel up into the central and western Serengeti.
JUNE: Head for the central and western Serengeti – the herds are there and getting ready for the toughest part of their odyssey.
JULY: Book early – it is the Big Event: river crossings. The herds have reached the western Serengeti and Grumeti Reserves and are peering closely at the brown waters of the rivers they have to cross. Why? Huge Nile crocodiles, that is why.
AUGUST: The survivors celebrate by feasting in the northern Serengeti and begin crossing back into Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. You need a passport to cross; the wildebeest are exempt.
SEPTEMBER: The herds break up into smaller groups – about half of the animals remain in the northern Serengeti, the rest are swapping stories in the Masai Mara (‘Did you hear that Nigel didn’t make it across the Grumeti?’).
OCTOBER: Your best bet is the Masai Mara but bear in mind it is a far smaller reserve than the Serengeti and there may be a lot of other visitors. The conservancies in the Mara are much less crowded and, not only will you stil be able to witness the Migration, you will also be benefitting the Maasai communities who have lived there for thousands of years.
NOVEMBER: The short rains have begun, propelling the wildebeest to leave the now denuded grasslands of the Masai Mara and back into the rejuvenated Serengeti.
DECEMBER: Fresh grazing sees the wildebeest clustered in the north-eastern Serengeti (around Lobo in particular) as well as the southern Serengeti. Calving begins again, the predators move in again, and the cycle of life begins all over again.