The Annual Great Wildebeest Migration
The Annual Great Wildebeest Migration is one of the one in life wildlife experiences only found in East Africa (Kenya and Tanzania). It has become one of the most sought for experiences for wildlife and nature enthusiasts.
The Annual Great Wildebeest Migration means the ever-moving circular movement (migration) of over a million animals that across through the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. The animals move in columns of wildebeest, joined by a host of companions, following an age-old route in search of grazing and water. This journey takes them across the plains of the Masai Mara national reserve in Kenya, into South of Tanzania, through the Serengeti national park to the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater, before circling up and around in a clockwise direction. Along the way, interesting moments are always present as thousands of animals are taken/eaten by predators, and thousands more are born, filling the numbers and sustaining the circle of life of these wildebeests.
In every year, there are about one point five million wildebeests, three hundred fifty thousand Thomson’s gazelles, two hundred thousand zebras and thousands of Elands and other hoofed animals that participate in what has been called “the greatest show on Earth” thus the great wildebeest Migration. The main three groups of migrant grazers have different grass-eating habits: as first group eats the top of the tallest grass, the second group will eat away some of the medium-height grass, until finally it is almost complete and then the herds move on. This also means each group sticks to their own kind with only a small overlap in their distributions. The grasses of the plains have the highest protein and calcium content in the whole of the Serengeti region.
It is uncertain on how the wildebeest get to know which directions and way to go while on their movements, but it is believed that their journey is dictated primarily by their response to the weather in that they follow the rains leading to growth of new grass. However there is no scientific proof of it kind of thoughts although some experts believe that the animals react to lightning and thunderstorms in the distance and they can locate rain more than 50km away.
The Annual Great Wildebeest Migration in January, February and March
Since the great wildebeest migration is a year round experience, every year in January, the migration process will be finishing in the southwards trek, moving along the eastern edge of the Serengeti national park into the Ngorongoro conservation area. While here, the plains are richer in nutritious grass providing the herds with the best conditions for raising their new born calves. Although there is no real beginning or end to this migratory circuit except for the birth and death of the animals, it seems reasonable to call the wildebeests’ birthing season the start of the migration.
During the late January or February, the herds occupy the short-grass plains that spread over the lower northern slopes of the Ngorongoro Crater highlands and around Olduvai Gorge. About 8,000 to 400,000 calves are estimated to be born here within a period of two to three weeks. The abundance of vulnerable young calves means the surrounding predators also spring into action, hunting with ease due to the complete numbers of wildebeest. Visitors interested in witnessing the calving season and the drama of big cats on the hunt, consider travelling to Serengeti national park in the months of January, February and March and stay in the southern Serengeti area which also offers direct access of Ubuntu, Kimondo and Olakira which are the seasonal camps that follow the seasonal Serengeti migration.
The Great Migration in April and May
After bearing their young ones in February and March, in April the heads of the wildebeest begin to shift north-west towards the fresher grass of the Central Serengeti, drawing with them over thousands of Zebra and smaller groups of Antelopes and by May, the columns of wildebeest stretch for several kilometres as the animals start to congregate by the Moru Kopjes which is home to the remaining black rhinos in Serengeti national park. The Dunia Camp in Moru Kopjes is one of the few camps in the Serengeti national park that offers migration viewing at this time of year (April or May) in central Serengeti.
Towards the end of May, the mating season begins and male wildebeest battle head-to-head, then continue on the journey at leisure with the Wildebeest, Zebra and Gazelle grazing as they move along and gradually, the movement gathers energy for all the animals and then they all start to move into the Serengeti’s Western Corridor. At this time of the year, the seasonal camps like the Ubuntu Migration Camp will also have relocated to follow the migration to provide visitors access to watch the wildebeest cross the Grumeti River. While in this River, the herds form in huge numbers along the pools and channels of the river, which they have to cross in order to continue on their journey. The wildbeest crossing on Grumeti River may not be as remarkable as one of the famous Mara River crossings in Kenya, but there are still enough wildebeest to provide the Grumeti crocs with an authentic moment. It is also worth noting that May is low season at Ubuntu and so safaris at this time of the year offer great value, since there are relatively fewer numbers of visitors in the Serengeti national park yet the wildlife viewings remain excellent.
The Great Migration in June and July
The dry season starts in the early month of June with large concentrations of wildebeest in the Western Serengeti area and on the southern banks of the Grumeti River. Each migrating animal will have to face the challenge of crossing because of the existence of crocodiles in the River making it one of the first of the many scary experiences for the animal like crossing. Towards the beginning of the month of July, the hundred thousands of wildebeest Zebras and other animals continue to head northwards along the western edge of the Central Serengeti towards an even riskier barrier which is the Mara River located in the north of the Serengeti national park. Wildebeest River crossing along the Mara River is uncertainly the best wildlife events experience on Earth. The animals usually start at the onset of high season in July, but timing all depends on nature thus the experience is not guaranteed.
During the month of July, the herds will typically be found in the Northern Serengeti, there are available seasonal camps for visitors looking to indulge just a little bit more and close to the experience. Towards, mid-end July, the animals have successfully made it across the Mara River into Kenya’s Masai Mara national reserve. Rekero Camp is the best of all accommodations in Masai Mara to witness the migration right from the main deck in Tarek River and Mara River.
The Annual Great Wildebeest Migration in August, September and October
By the month of 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.
The Great Migration in November and December
After the East African short rains in the late October and early November, the wildebeest move down from Kenya and into the Eastern limits of the Serengeti past Namiri plains which is an area known for outstanding cheetah sightings. 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 which draws the herds of 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.