The Great Migration
Tuesday, 09th September 2014
When and Where To Experience The Great Wildebeest Migration
Even wildlife documentarians can’t make the Great Migration look believable. The camera pans out to reveal a million wildebeest, close-ups show lion prides salivating at the dinner menu, and crocodiles maul zebras with ferocious abandon. Every year almost 2 million mammals follow each other around the Serengeti and the Maasai Mara, the grass disappearing beneath a carpet of marauding hoofs and stealthy paws. The Lion King seems less fictional, even if it features a hyena that sounds like Woopi Goldberg.
The Number One Tanzania Question – Am I Going to See the Migration?
Head to Tanzania on safari and the question on most lips is “will I see the wildebeest migration?” Luckily for you, 2 million mammals don’t suddenly vanish. While the herds aren’t always on the move, this spectacular phenomenon can be witnessed all year round. Don’t listen if anybody says you can’t see it in a certain month. It’s not like the wildebeest come out to play for a couple of months and then mysteriously go into hiding. They’re not going to disappear and go on holiday. The wildebeest follow the same annual migration routes, making them easy to locate if you’re on safari.
There isn’t a wrong time when it comes to the migration. Immersing yourself in the great wildebeest migration depends on visiting the right place at the right time. Different seasons also provide different experiences. We’ve outlined a rough guide to the action, but remember that the wildebeest don’t have a Western calendar. They don’t get a reminder on their iPhone telling them that it’s time to move. Their journey is dictated by the rains so there can be considerable blurring between the seasons below.
December to March – The Southern Serengeti Plains
Best for: Huge herds covering the plains, calving and lots of predator action, shorter and budget safaris.
The migration starts (or ends) with the wildebeest giving birth to the next generation of nomadic wanderers. During the early months of the year you’ll find immense herds covering the lush short grasses of the Southern Serengeti. It looks surreal, zebra and wildebeest stretching beyond the horizon and turning the plains into a patchwork quilt of black. They give birth, eat grass, and try to avoid the thousands of big cats that are enjoying a feast.
If you have limited time or money then this could be your best option. The southern plains are closest to Arusha and the rest of the Northern Safari Circuit, meaning that you can come for just 24 hours and soak up the spectacle. This easy accessibility does come with a downside and it can get crowded with safari trucks. Aventura knows a few hidden away places to ensure you still get a very intimate experience.
April to July – The Serengeti’s Western Corridor
Best for: Complete immersion in the migration, moving herds, adventure.
Some people preconceive all 2 million mammals running off in one solid ball. That doesn’t quite happen. Early runners lead the charge north, followed by chaotic herds that thunder towards the Serengeti’s Western Corridor. As they move they group together, sometimes forming herds of six figure proportions, and then all piling up near the Grumeti River.
The experience here is all about the migrating herds, watching a never-ending succession of hoofs charge across the landscape. Don’t try and rush it, you’ll need a few days to really get a handle on the scale of things. April and May see the long rains come to Tanzania and there’s a daily downpour most afternoons. However, it’s all part of the adventure when it comes to experiencing the Great Migration at its most energetic and enigmatic.
August to October – Northern Serengeti and Kenya’s Maasai Mara
Best for: Spectacular river crossings and hunting scenes
At this time of year the wildebeest disperse and then bunch up together. They begin to cover a huge area as they look for fresh grazing land and try and make the famous river crossings. Many will cross north into Kenya’s Maasai Mara, although that still leaves a good million mammals on the Tanzanian side of the border. Herds pile up on both sides of the river, sometimes waiting days before daring to cross. Then they charge, and a smorgasbord of predators usually end up getting an easy meal.
You’ll need a multi-day Serengeti safari to get out to the Northern plains, but the time commitment is easily worth the spectacular hunting scenes you’re going to encounter. Most tourists head to the Maasai Mara at this time of year, meaning that the Kenyan park is overcrowded with safari trucks. Sticking to Tanzania means that you often get a lot of the magic all to yourself.
November – December – Back to the Southern Plains
Best for: Getting close to the action, less tourists, moving herds
By the end of the year the wildebeest are looking ragged and depleted. 2 million mammals might have started the journey but a huge percentage aren’t going to finish it. These months are difficult to predict, as the wildebeest will start heading south and returning to their calving grounds from September onwards.
This is probably the least popular time to come visit the migration, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less enchanting. Our guides sometimes prefer this time of year as it enables them to explore some of the more unknown parts of the Serengeti and allow visitors to experience everything from an almost intimidating proximity.
What if I’m going to miss the Great Migration?
The Serengeti teems with zebra and wildebeest all year round. Even if the Great Migration is at the opposite end of the park, you’re still going to see thousands of both. You’re also still going to see the predators patrolling the land. The Serengeti is a magical place, with or without the migration. So don’t worry too much if your visit doesn’t coincide with the moving herds. It will blow your mind regardless.