The Great Wildebeest Migration in Serengeti Tanzania
The Serengeti-Masai Mara ecosystem stretches over 23,000 sq. km of land with the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Masai Mara in Kenya, the lush plains are home to some of the dramatic wildlife population in Africa which is made more spectacular with the annual migration where estimated 1.6-2 million wildebeests embark on a journey in search of greener pastures and water which is seen to a companied by thousands of Zebras and the Gazelles and this is not all but the beginning of the tough as predators are seen following the herds but usually, they do not cross the River.
Why do the wildebeest migrate?
The wildebeest migration is certainly activated by the rains in Serengeti or lack of water in the Serengeti verse versa by rains in Masai Mara or lack of water in the Masai Mara, When a seasonal drought dries up grass and water supplies in a particular area, the grazing wildebeest, zebras, and the Gazelles move on to the next area along the migration route where seasonal rains are falling.
Which animals participate in the annual migration?
Currently, an estimate of two million wildebeests participates in the migration. Hundreds of thousands of zebras and Thomson’s gazelles join them. Although lions, cheetah, leopard, hyenas, and other carnivores do not migrate with the grazing animals, they feast on them when their paths cross and this is more evidential in the Serengeti during the wildebeest calving season.
How do you know where the animals are during the migration?
The highlight of an African safari is to experience the annual migration, while they do their best to look purposeful, the herds don’t travel directly, but instead, meander in a clockwise direction moving between the patches of fresh green grass that emerge in response to localized rain showers. The herds reach the 1900 km oval circuit with two things in mind: food and water.
Over years a wildebeest hard tracker information has been recorded based on the seasons of the rain patterns in the grater Serengeti and Masai Mara ecosystem and it has proven to be effective as the annual wildebeest migration usually happens in July to October.
Below is our guide to the annual wildebeest migration pattern.
The Guide to the annual wildebeest migration pattern
December –March (wildebeest calving season)
Vast herds of wildebeest spend the short rain season in the volcanic open plains below the Ngorongoro Crater and in the southern part of the Serengeti where the grass growth is most productive and nutritional. This area is the starting point for one of the great wonders of the world: the Serengeti Annual Migration. As the sea of grass provides little cover, the young are easy pickings for a variety of predators. Wildebeest have synchronized birthing, which means that about 90% of calves are born within a three-week period. With such a sudden and massive surge of available food, predators do not make any significant dent in the newborn calf population. Wildebeest calves can run minutes after they are born and within three days, they are strong enough to keep up with the herd.
April-May (herds start their journey towards the Grumeti river)
As the grass gets depleted in the Southern Serengeti, herds move to the plains and woodlands of the Central Serengeti. The mortality rate is quite high due to injuries and fatigue, motivating large numbers of vultures to follow the herds on their journey. The area around Moru Kopjes and the west of Seronera soon becomes a hectic scene of moving columns, often containing hundreds of thousands of wildebeest. They are joined by many zebras and a scattering of Thompson’s and Grant’s gazelles.
June (wildebeest rutting season)
The Grumeti River is northwest of the short grass plains. This watercourse is their first real obstacle and gigantic Nile crocodiles (up to 6 meters in length) are waiting for the hesitant wildebeest to stumble at the crossing. Their livelihood is inextricably linked with the great migration. Moving with surprising stealth and speed, they prey upon the thirsty herds as they drink and aim to cross the river. All is far from peaceful; for it is the rutting season and each male try to establish his stamping ground. After moving westwards, the migration divides by some uncanny instinct, one group turning northeast and the other due north. It is very difficult to predict river crossings in the area and you may miss it if the migration is early or late.
Following the rainfalls, the migrating animals move north and will stay in the Masai Mara National Reserve and the Northern Serengeti. Nothing stops the stampeding hordes. Tempted by greener pastures, the wildebeest arrive at the Mara River around July and cross over onto the Masai Mara plains. During these four months, many animals cross and re-cross the Mara River several times following periodic rain showers. Crossing points form bottlenecks in which thousands of animals perish through trampling or drowning. Not surprisingly, hyenas, lions, leopards, crocodiles, and even cheetahs capitalize on this glut of fresh meat. Typically, the wildebeest remain in the Masai Mara until October when they start returning to the Southern Serengeti.
November Wildebeest migration pattern
The army of animals returns southward to the replenished grasslands of the southern Serengeti, thereby completing the migratory cycle.
Best time to witness the annual wildebeest migration
There are two phenomenal times to visit the Serengeti for the wildebeest migration for those wanting to witness the Mara river crossing should consider booking between Mid-July to early October and for those wanting to experience the wildebeest calving season should consider visiting in Late January to Mid-February and this will allow you to see big herds as they gather for calving and at the same time start their Journey back to the Mara Eco-system.
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