THE GREAT WILDEBEEST MIGRATION SAFARI
The exceptional wildebeest migration is a wondrous movement of about 2 million animals mainly comprising of wildebeest and some zebras and gazelles in two of Africa’s extraordinary safari destinations. It is an annual movement that starts in the southern plains of Serengeti national park in Tanzania northwards through the western section, to Kenya’s Masai Mara and back to Serengeti. The trip covers about 1,800miles. There is nowhere else in the world that you’ll encounter migration of such a big number of animals and this makes these destinations the world’s most iconic.
Located 208 miles from Arusha in Northern Tanzania, Serengeti national park is best known for being a natural habitat to wide number of animals and the highest concentration of mammals in the world. It is famously known for the wildebeest alongside featured with lions, zebra, giraffe, buffalo, cheetah, hyena, hippo and about 518 bird species. Masai Mara is one of the most spectacular places of Africa’s safari destinations. It regularly receives rainfall which is ideal for vegetation growth that attracts large number of herbivores including the wildebeest and others. These herbivores are preyed on by carnivores in the park; lion, leopard, cheetah and hyena and this makes it easy to spot a variety of wildlife in Masai Mara national reserve. Other animal species in the park are elephant, giraffe, buffalo, hippo, zebra and about 500 bird species.
There are different species of wildebeest namely; the Blue or brindled wildebeest in the south of river Zambezi, the Eastern white-bearded wildebeest in the East of Gregory in Kenya and Tanzania and the Western bearded wildebeest, a kind that is seen taking trips through Serengeti and Masai Mara.
The great wildebeest migration is pushed by the season when water gets scarce and grass drying up in southern Serengeti. Animals resort to searching for these necessities in Masai Mara in Kenya. The animals move in large herds but wait for each other when they arrive at Grumeti River. As they cross the river, some are preyed on by crocodiles while others will be attacked and eaten up by carnivores in Masai Mara and others die of hunger and thirst on the way. Some of them remain on the way due to exhaustion. Because the movement depends on availability of food and water, the migration is not accurately predictable and questions about the best time to watch it may have differing answers. However, though the animals often arrive at Masai Mara in July.
Best Time and Place To Observe The Great Wildebeest Migration
January, February and March
There are many herds of wildebeest and zebras in Ngororongoro Conservation area, Ndutu and the south of Serengeti during this time of the year. Wildebeest cows wait to give birth on the short and rich plains in these areas. The area is good for grazing. End of January to mid- March is calving season and lots of calves are born. The big number of calves attracts predators which feast on them. The area is also perfect for spotting predators during this period.
From January to March, it is easier to watch these wildebeest from mobile camps though staying at mobile camps is discouraged by the presence of flies around the area. The alternative is staying at Lake Masek Tented camp and Ndutu lodge where great views of the animals are captured. Mwiba lodge provides luxury accommodation and can always transfer guests to the closest areas where the wildebeest can be watched.
April to May
From the end of March to the beginning of May, it is not a perfect time to spot large population of wildebeest and other animals. This is when Tanzania receives a lot of rain, the grass is tall and roads are not easily driven through because of rain, so getting to the park is not easy. Those who have visited the park in April have chances of viewing the migration if they stay at Kasini Camp, Ndutu safari lodge or Serengeti Kati Kati camp and Osupuku safari lodge.
Due to the abundant wildebeest and other herbivores, grass is massively chewed and all areas are left with very short plains in May. By the end of May, waterholes are staring to dry up as the dry season sets in. Theherds start moving northwards through the western corridor of Serengeti and areas close to Lake Victoria where they find some water and grass. Long columns of wildebeest and other animals like zebra, gazelles and others are seen others heading to the north Seronera and others westwards.
More wildebeest herds are leaving the southern part of Serengeti to the western and central Serengeti to search for food and water. They start concentrating on the south of Grumeti River because the river has channels which slow down the movement. This river is surrounded by a forest which harbors elephants and other animals. River Grumeti also harbors crocodiles which feast on the wildebeest as they try to cross to continue with their journey.
To watch the migration around this area, visitors can stay at Faru Faru River lodge, Sasakwa Hill Lodge, Sabora Plains tented camp, Grumeti River camp and Kirarwa camp.
As the grass around Grumeti River and water reduces, the wildebeest cross the river and continue northwards. Others move via the central of Serengeti and others through Grumeti reserve and Ikorongo and begin crossing to Masai Mara national reserve. So the migration can be watched at Singita Grumeti Reserve.
September and October
The herds of wildebeest divide into smaller groups and about half of them reside in the northern Serengeti Park and others cross Mara River to Masai Mara national reserve. When they arrive here during the dry season, wildebeests converge around River Mara to drink where they are also attacked and eaten by crocodiles.
October is the best time to watch the wildebeest in these two national parks; the north of Serengeti national park and south of Masai Mara national park. Besides the animals, the communities of the Masai that have lived in the area for thousands of years should not be missed out on the tour, visit them and explore more about the culture and lifestyle of these people.
To watch the migration during this period, there are many lodges and camps one can stay in and the best rewards of the safari. Some of them include; Mara River Tented camp, Sayari Camp for luxury accommodation and Lemala Kuri Hills, Governor’s Camp and Nomad’s Lamai Camp among others.
November and December
November comes with rain and animals have grazed on the grass. They start to leave the south of Masai Mara to the east and back to areas that are developing fresh grass in Serengeti.
In December, the wildebeests start to move back to southern Serengeti. They enjoy the fresh grasses in northeast of Serengeti and Southern Serengeti. They arrive by the end of December and beginning of January to end the trip. Calving starts at the end of January.
If your safari takes place during this period of the year, you could stay at Namiri Camp to watch the great wildebeest migration and other animals.
Having a combined tour
A safari to view the great wildebeest migration in Kenya and Tanzania is one of the best and exceptional experiences of travel for wildlife in the world. However, the tour can be combined with other activities such as community visit to experience culture and other traditional practices, game drives, guided nature walk, visiting the beaches, bush dining and more. Consult us for remarkable safaris.
How to get there
As earlier mentioned that the movement of the wildebeest may sometimes slightly change due to varying seasons in different years, it may be tricky for you to predict about the migration as you plan for the best time for your wildebeest migration safari. Organizing your tour with Adventure in the Wild safaris will make your planning easy, expect the best of the great migration experience.
It is easier to get to the wildebeest destinations (Serengeti national park and Masai Mara) when you pass via Kenya. Fly to Jomo Kenyatta international airport then connect to Nairobi for domestic flight to Masai Mara. Masai Mara is about 167miles northwest of Nairobi and it would take you approximately 5 hours to reach by road. When preparing for your safari, ensure that you have a yellow fever migration card, visa and a passport.
If you are connecting directly to Tanzania and thereafter head to Serengeti, then you’ll start in Arusha. Fly to Kilimanjaro international airport and drive 46km to Arusha. From arusha, you may choose to fly to the park or drive for about 8hours to get to Serengeti national park.
As you prepare for your 2020 wildebeest safari
Find out more about the great migration and other animals in the parks and get to know how they interact. With this, it will be easy for you to follow each and every step of the tour and clearly understand the reasons for animal behavior in these parks. For you to plan well for what to wear on the safari, find out about the weather and climate of the region.
One of the things you should consider doing is viewing the Great Wildebeest Migration of Serengeti and Masai Mara, an incredible experience you will get from nowhere else except here. Since the movement is in a circle and we see different things happening at different stages, you may plan for your trip depending on what you are interested in most; long columns of wildebeest, congregation at water bodies, crossing rivers and other experiences.
Due to the extremely big population of animals that move in the great migration, it is also referred to as “the world cup of wildlife”. They are dominantly wildebeest, a noticeable number of zebras and less numbers of Thompson’s gazelle, Grant’s gazelle, impala and eland. Their movement is dependent on weather conditions, availability of grass and water. The animals try to move as a group as they wait for each other before crossing River Grumeti though the population is too big to be maintained as one.
The Great Wildebeest Migration is one of the “Seven New Wonders of the World” because there is the world doesn’t have any other migration of animals that records such an enormous number of migrating animals. On their way to search for food and water, they face challenges such as being eaten by crocodiles as they cross rivers, being eaten by predators in Masai Mara and dying on the way because of thirst, hunger and exhaustion. You got to have a tour to Masai Mara and watch the lucky wildebeest that were able to make it to their destination before returning to Serengeti.
The famous Great wildebeest migration that takes place in the East Africa’s plains of Kenya and Tanzania is a fascinating display of the wildlife riches and gifts of the destinations. It takes place annually in an area known as the “Serengeti Ecosystem”. Covering an area of 40,000sq miles, the area includes Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Serengeti national park, Grumeti Reserve, Ndutu and Maswa Game Reserve, Loliondo and Masai Mara National park. It is even more thrilling to watch the wildebeests crossing Mara River heading to the south of Masai Mara where the animals settle before embarking on their return journey. Out of about 2million animals that migrate, there are normally approximately 200, 000 zebras, a relatively big number of gazelles and antelopes.
The birthing process of the wildebeest
A better narration of the great wildebeest migration starts with the birthing process. This takes place in January and February where about 300,000 to 400,000 calves are born in a period of about three weeks. Birthing of wildebeest calves takes place on the northern slopes of Ngorongoro crater, the Olduvai Gorge and the Serengeti. Because there are a lot of calves, predators targeting to prey on them are commonly spotted around the area during this period. A game drive around these places rewards you with big numbers of hyenas, leopards and lions. A calf that has been born five minutes ago can run with the rest of the herd if threatened by predators, though many of them get separated from their mothers and sometimes die in these incidents.
By the time the migration commences, the calves have grown and can join the older ones. Migration initially starts towards the end March when the short dry season is coming to an end. The short grass plains in Southern Serenget start to dry out and the wildebeest find their way towards west of Serengeti till they arrive in the fresh grazing areas of Masai Mara. The movement of these animals is guided by how their response to weather hence heading to Masai Mara where rainfall is abundant. Through Ndutu and Masek to Grumeti and continuing to north of Serengeti and South of Masai Mara, the wildebeest and other animals in the herds cover a distance of about 1,800miles to close the trip in Serengeti before starting another one. They start heading back to Serengeti when the first short rains are received in Serengeti. Fresh tender shoots start to grow and seasonal water holes are filled with water, these will be great grazing areas for the pregnant cows that are heading back to Serengeti to wait for birthing.
Great wildebeest migration Month per month
Before starting on another annual migration, wildebeest arrive in Serengeti in November and December when the park starts to receive rain and fresh tender shoots have developed. Areas settled in are Ndutu, the north of Ngororngoro and south of Serengeti in Seronera. The animals will later on spread around Serengeti national park and start to move northwards in April.
In May, the herds start divide and others move northwards while others to the west where there is still abundant water and grass. The awnimals move in long columns heading to the north in Seronera and Moru Kopjes.
Between may and June, most animals have reached the western corridor of Serengeti and areas close to Lake Victoria. This is also the period when thwey mate and most of them conceive, this is known as the rutting season. From here, they proceed to Grumeti River in June and keep feeding on the grass that is here as they wait for other animals that are lagging behind before they cross the river. The river is a home to numerous crocodiles which feast on these wildebeest when staying at and crossing the river. After accumulating at the river, the animals cross and proceed to the north.
In July and August, the wildebeests have crosses the Grumeti river and are seen dividing themselves to the Grumeti Reserve and Ikorongo and others to the central part of Serengeti national park.
Animals reach the northern part of Serengeti national park in September and others head to Mara river where some of them will stay and others cross to the southern part of Masai Mara. If they arrive in the dry season, many animals will be gathering around the river to drink. On the other hand, it is sometimes challenging to cross this river but many animals still afford to. This is one of the stages of the migration you ought to watch, how the animals endeavor to cross to Kenya. There are some cases when they fail to cross and die before they make it to another side of the river.
Just like at Grumeti River, they will gather and accumulate before they cross. They don’t have a specific crossing point and their struggles for crossing will depend on the area chosen for crossing.
During the month of October, they move around south of Masai Mara, Loliondo to Lobo area. They later on in November start to move southwards to head back to Southern Serengeti.
Find out more about another little wildebeest migration;
This migration is recorded as the longest of all recorded migrations by large mammals. Animals move seasonally from Botswana to the border of Namibia. It is dominated by Burchell’s zebras and other animals include wildebeest, buffalo and elephants. During the dry season, these animals are commonly seen along river systems; the Chobe, the Okavango and the Kwando-Linyanti while in the wet season is spent in the vegetated sand-sheet of the Kalahari.
It is recently that the details of this migration were found and now looking forward to getting data to assess it. The migration was identified in 2012 as the longest movement of animals, they move from Botswana to the edge of Namibia to Nxai and Makgadikgadi Pan national parks in search of food and water. Besides the factor of food and water, they are also forced to move as a sign of responding to weather changes and seasons.
Africa is not only endowed with the wide variety of wildlife from country to country, animals go ahead to move to different distant areas around the regions of the safari destinations and they can be watched from other areas along their trip besides their initial habitats. The wildebeest migration is a continuous behavior done every year to make a cycle. The patterns for each year are followed and help to make predictions of the next movement depending on the weather.