The Wildebeest migration is an annual migration between Tanzania and Kenya of approximately one and a half million wildebeest; and one of the most sought-after wildlife experiences for wildlife and nature enthusiasts.
This incredible spectacle is an ever-moving circular migration between the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem and in fact; also includes Zebra who often lead the wildebeest; plus other hoofed wildlife.
It is the river crossings that are the most exciting as the herds gather on the river banks till one of them takes the plunge into the river and the rest start to follow; creating a feast for crocodiles; eagerly awaiting this phenomenon.
Another exciting time to visit is during the wildebeest rutting season which is a frenzied three-week-long bout of territorial conquests and mating. Replenishing the species is the brief population explosion that produces more than 8 000 calves a day before the 1 000 km pilgrimage begins.
This map gives you an indication of the migration circle.
The Wildebeest Migration cycle
Triggered by the seasonal rains; more than a million wildebeest, 200 000 zebra, and 300 000 Thomson’s gazelle; gather to undertake their long trek to new grazing lands; from the Southern Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater/Conservation Area to Kenya (Masai Mara) and back into Tanzania again. And so goes the ‘greatest show on earth’; the Wildebeest Migration!
The wildebeest migration is a natural occurrence; therefore it is impossible to know for sure where the migrating herds will be. Also, keep in mind; Wildebeest have no natural leader, and subsequently, herds split up; often heading off in a completely different path to the one they chose yesterday; which makes it harder to say for sure; where they will be tomorrow. Generally speaking, all migration maps usually show the main/mega herd; but the splinter herds can be spread out over half the Serengeti-Mara region!
January – March
We’ll start in January when the herds begin to congregate around the eastern/southern Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater/Conservation Area; where the plains are rich in nutritious grasses; providing the herds with the best conditions for raising their newborn calves. Around late January or February; the herds occupy the short-grass plains that spread over the lower northern slopes of the Ngorongoro Crater highlands. Some 400 000 calves are born here; within a period of two to three weeks; that is equivalent to some 8 000 new calves every day!
Due to the abundance of these vulnerable young calves; the predators also spring into action; hunting with ease because of the sheer numbers of wildebeest. Those interested in witnessing calving and the drama of big cats on the hunt; would definitely not be disappointed at this time of year.
April – May
After bearing their young in February and March; the wildebeest herds begin to drift northwest towards the fresher grass of the central and west Serengeti. By May; columns of wildebeest stretch for several kilometers. Mating season begins towards the end of May and male wildebeest battle head-to-head. Throughout ‘the rut’; the journey continues at leisure, with the wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle grazing as they go along.
Gradually, the movement gathers momentum and the wildebeest start to mass in the Serengeti’s Western Corridor; where the wildebeest begin to cross the Grumeti River. The herds form in huge numbers alongside the pools and channels of the river; which they have to cross in order to continue on their journey. This may not be as spectacular as the famous Mara crossings, but there are still enough wildebeest to provide the Grumeti crocs with a veritable feast. It is worth noting that April and May usually fall into the low or mid season, therefore; safaris at this time offer great value since there are relatively low numbers of tourists in the Serengeti yet the wildlife viewings remain excellent.
June and July
During June, the dry season starts, with large concentrations of wildebeest in the Western Serengeti and on the southern banks of the Grumeti River. Each migrating animal must face the challenge of crossing the crocodile-infested river; the first of many daunting and tense river encounters.
As June moves into July, the hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra continue to head north along the western edge of the park towards an even riskier barrier; the Mara River in the north of the Serengeti. These river crossings are arguably one of the most exciting wildlife events on Earth; they usually start at the onset of high season in July, but obviously; timing all depends on nature.
During July, the herds will typically be found in the Northern Serengeti. Later in July, those animals that have successfully made it across the Mara River will also be found in Kenya’s Masai Mara. At this time, daily river crossings can be seen at the Mara and Talek rivers; both often central to incredible scenes.
August, September, and October
By August, the herds have faced the challenge of crossing the Mara River and are spread throughout the Masai Mara’s northern region; with many remaining in the northern Serengeti. In years when the river is in full flow; the panic and confusion at the crossings; combined with waiting predators and surging currents; can cause massive loss of life. But, even in years of relatively gently flowing water, the crocs take their toll; not to mention the lions and other large predators that patrol the banks, ready to ambush any wildebeest that make it to the other side. There is no single crossing; at some spots, there are just a few individuals; while others see a mass of animals moving without break for hours.
By September to October, the main chaos has ended and the migrating columns have gradually moved eastwards. However, the wildebeest will face the heavy waters of the Mara River once more as they prepare to cross once again for their return journey southwards.
November and December
After the East African short rains in late October and early November; the wildebeest move down from Kenya and into the eastern limits of the Serengeti. By December; they are spread throughout the eastern and southern reaches.
In the early months of the new year, the grasses in the deep south of the Serengeti are lush with rain. This draws the herds; not only of wildebeest but also hundreds of thousands of zebra and other plains animals. The cycle continues as the calving season starts once again.