Each year around 1.5 million wildebeest and 300,000 zebra (along with other antelope) gather up their young and start their long trek from Tanzania’s Serengeti Plains, further north to Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. They go in search of food and water. Their journey runs in a clockwise circle and the animals cover a distance of around 1800 miles. It’s a tough journey, and every year an estimated 250,000 wildebeest don’t make it.
One of the most spectacular sights of the migration is when the herds gather to cross the Grumeti River (Tanzania) and the Mara River (Kenya) from July through September. As the herds cross, crocodiles are lying in wait for any weak and feeble ungulates that can’t cope with the strong currents or lose their mothers.
But the river crossings aren’t the only spectacle. Just witnessing hundreds of animals on the plains is a sight in itself. Particularly because they attract many of Africa’s impressive predators. Lions, leopards, hyenas and wild dogs follow the herds and give safari goers excellent chances of seeing a kill in action.
Being a natural event, the migration changes year to year in both timing and location. Use the information below as a general guideline.
In December through March the Serengeti plains and the Ngorongoro Conservation areas in northern Tanzania are home to giant herds of wildebeest, zebra and other ungulates. This is calving season. Most of the wildebeest calves are born in just a three week period, usually the beginning of February. Calves attract predators and this is an amazing time of year to watch impressive lion kills. It’s also quite spectacular to see almost half a million little wildebeest being born and running alongside their mothers.
The southern Ndutu and Salei plains are the best areas to see the large herds during this time of year. The best places to stay include Ndutu Safari Lodge, Kusini Camp, Lemala Ndutu Camp and any mobile tented camps in the area.
By April/May the herds begin to migrate west and north to the grassier plains and woodland of the Serengeti’s western Corridor. The rain during this time of year makes it difficult to follow the herds during this stage of their migration. Many of Tanzania’s smaller camps in fact shut down due to impassable roads.By the end of May, as the rains stop, the wildebeest and zebra gradually start moving north and individual groups begin to congregate and form much larger herds. This is also the time the wildebeest mate. Western Serengeti is the best place to watch the migration unfold.
By July the herds reach their first big obstacle, the Grumeti River. The Grumeti river can get deep in places, especially if the rains have been good. This is the first of the spectacular river crossings you can witness. The depth of the river makes drowning a distinct possibility for many wildebeest and there are plenty of crocodiles to take advantage of their distress.
Camps along the river during this time make for an incredible safari experience. The best places to stay are The Serengeti Serena which is a central, easily accessible lodge for viewing the migration at this time. Grumeti River Camp, Migration Camp and Kirawira Camp are also options. Seronera and Moru area campsites are the best for those on a budget. Kleins Camp is also ideally situated.