Your Guide To The Great Wildebeest Migration : The Great Wildebeest migration is one of the most sought after wildlife occurrences for wildlife and nature enthusiasts, one of the wonders of the world and usually referred to as the world cup of wildlife, the great migration is an ever moving circular migration of over 12 millions of wildebeests accompanied by thousands of Thomson and grant’s gazelles and zebras across the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem following an age old route.

Your Guide To The Great Wildebeest Migration
Your Guide To The Great Wildebeest Migration
Your Guide To The Great Wildebeest Migration

The great wildebeest migration consists of constant movements of big columns of wildebeests accompanied by zebras and a gazelle in search for water and green pastures, the migration starts after calving in the southern region of Tanzania in Serengeti national park near the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The animals then set on a journey through the plains of Serengeti up and around in a clockwise direction heading towards Maasai Mara national reserve in Kenya, before returning once again near the end of the year. The most dramatic episode of the great migration is the Mara river crossing which is also the most deadly episode, as animals cross the river, the face-off with the Nile crocodiles in the waters of Mara River and the predators waiting to feast on them on the banks of the river.  Another amazing episode is predator action, predators such as lions, leopards, African wild dogs and cheetahs always stock the animals most especially after the birth of thousands of calves.

 This article offers a broad overview of the great migration, how it works at different times throughout the year and the frequently asked questions,

What is the Great Migration

The Great Migration ‘the greatest show on Earth.’  is the largest ever recorded movement of animals on planet earth with herds moving in great columns comprising of about 1,000 animals per kilometer and they can easily be seen from space, the numbers of animals participating in great migration are recorded to be over 1.2 million wildebeests, 60,000 thousand zebras and over 30,000 gazelles along topis moving in a constant cycle through the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem in their search for water and pastures. These animals are said to be guided by survival instinct in their movements with each wildebeests covering about 800 to 1,000 kilometers on an individual journey following an age old-migration routes, while on the journey the herds are consistently attacked by hungry predators including lion, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, wild dogs and Nile crocodiles thus the only strongest survive.

The Great Migration

The great migration circuit takes the herds from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, though not in to the Ngorongoro crater in the south of Serengeti national park in Tanzania, then up through the plains of Serengeti national park into the Maasai Mara national reserve in Kenya and back again starting the journey all over again. The whole journey is filled with danger – constant attacks from predators including lions, cheetahs, hyenas, African wild dogs which keep on snatching the young claves and long the Grumenti and Mara River. The herds also faceoff with the crocodiles in the Mara River and some of the weak and exhausted animals drown (only the strongest survive).

The three groups herds (wildebeests, gazelles and zebras) have different grass-eating habits, one group eats the top of the tallest grass, the next group eats the medium-height grass and the next one eats the rest until its almost completely eaten. The herds then move on, these grass-eating habits means each group sticks to their own kind with a small overlap in their distributions. The grasses of the plains  of Serengeti national park and Maasai Mara national reserve have the highest protein content and also high in calcium.

Up today it is still unclear how the wildebeests and other herds know the way to go but it believed that their journey is primarily dictated by their response to the weather, the animals are sais to follow the rains and the growth of new grass. Though there is no scientific proof, some experts believe that the animals react to lightning and thunderstorms from a distance. It is suggested that the wildebeests have the ability to locate rain in more than 50 kilometers away.

How the Great Migration moves throughout the year

Great migration is an annual movement, this section highlights and gives an insight where the Great migration tend to be during different times of the year. Briefly the seasons of the great migration are

  • January, February and March
  • April and May
  • June and July
  • August, September and October
  • November and December


The Great Migration in January, February and March

Around January, the great migration is finishing a southward trek moving along the eastern edge of the Serengeti national park and into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.  These plains (Serengeti and Ngorongoro) are rich in nutritious grass providing the migrating hers with the best conditions for raising the born calves.

 Though there is real beginning or end of the migratory circuit (other than bird and death), it seems to be more reasonable to call the birthing season of the wildebeest to be the start of the migration, around late January or February, the herds occupy the short-grass plains spread all over the lower northern slopes of the Ngorongoro Crater Highlands and around Olduvai Gorge. In the birthing season, over 400,000 calves are born in a period of 2-3 weeks with about 8,000 calves born every day.

 The abundance of vulnerable newly born young calves attracts a number of predators springing into action hunting with ease due to the sheer numbers of wildebeests, for travelers/tourists interested in witnessing the calving and hunting drama of the big cats, this period is the perfect time to visit Serengeti national park.

The Great Migration in April and May

After the birth of thousands of calves in February and March, the wildebeests and other herds begin to head to northwest in April towards the fresher grass of the central Serengeti. By May, huge columns of wildebeests stretch for several kilometers and they start to congregate by the Moru Kopjes. The mating season begins at the end of the May resulting into head to head battle among the male wildebeests, throughout the “rut” the journey continues with the herds slowing down to graze as they move.

Gradually, the herds on their movement gather momentum and they start to mass in the Serengeti’s Western Corridor. At this time of year, the wildebeests and other herds cross the Grumeti River. The herds form huge numbers along the pools and channel of river which they have to cross to continue with their journey , Grumenti river crossing is not spectacular and famous as Mara River crossing but very rewarding to watch.

May is generally a low season in Serengeti national park with a low population of tourists in Serengeti national park, however the wildlife viewing is still excellent.

the Great Migration Eco System
The Great Migration in June and July

June is a dry season in Serengeti national park and the wildebeests start to congregate at the banks of the Grumenti River in the western Serengeti, while crossing the river , each and every migrating herd must face the challenge of crossing the crocodile-infested river. This is the first of the many daunting and tense river encounters in the great migration thus Your Guide To The Great Wildebeest Migration.

As June elapses into July, millions of wildebeests, zebras and gazelles continue to head north along the western edge of the Serengeti national park towards Mara River which is a riskier barrier in the north of Serengeti. The Mara river crossing is the most exciting wildlife event on earth, the herds usually begin at the onset of high season in July however the timing depends on nature.

 The migrating herds are generally found in the Northern Serengeti national park in the month of July, later in July the herds have successfully made it across the Mara river to enter the plains of Maasai Mara national reserve of Kenya. The incredible scenery of the river crossing can be seen at the Mara and Talek rivers.

The Great Migration in August, September and October

By August, the migrating herds have already crossed the deadly Mara River and they spread throughout the northern region of Maasai Mara, some of the herds remain in the northern Serengeti. The river crossing is filled with panic and confusion as it is combined with predators in the river and along its banks and the surging currents of the full flow of the river which results into the death of many herds. Predators include crocodiles in the waters of the river, lions, leopards, African wild dogs and cheetahs which are normally patrolling the banks of the river.

At some points of the river, there is no single crossing, there are just a few individuals while others see a mass of animals moving without break for many hours.

 By September to October, the major chaos created by the migrating herds has seized down and the migrating columns have started to gradually move eastwards. The migrating herds again faceoff with the heavy waters of the Mara River to cross once again for their return journey southward, though it is not as great as the first river crossing.

The Great Migration in November and December

In the late October and Early November, the East African short rains have ended. The wildebeest and other migrating herds move down from Kenya into the eastern limits of the Serengeti past Namiri Plains – an area known for outstanding cheetah sightings and thus Your Guide To The Great Wildebeest Migration.

By December, the migrating herds are spread throughout the eastern and southern ranches. In the early months of a new year, new grass spouts into a lush in the deep of the Serengeti attracting herds of wildebeests together with thousands of zebras and gazelles and others. The great migration cycle starts all over again as the calving season starts.

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