Great Wildebeest Migration

Christened the “World Cup of Wildlife”, the Great Wildebeest Migration is one of the thrilling wildlife experiences in Kenya and Tanzania and should never be missed during your African safari. This is an annual cycle that encompasses millions of specific wildlife species across the spectacular Serengeti-Mara Ecosystem in the East African Region.

The all-year-round movement of millions of wildebeests, accompanied by zebras, gazelles, and elands through an old tradition while searching for fresh grazing pastures and plentiful clean water is something that most travelers to Kenya and Tanzania always wish to see/experiences.

During this phenomena great annual migration, over 1.5 million wildebeests, along with more than 300,000 gazelles and about 200,000 zebras as well as elands, bushbucks, impalas, Topis and other antelopes are sighted creating one of the most indescribable spectacles on Earth.

The Great wildebeest migration usually follows a cycle that starts with calving in Tanzania’s Northern side (Serengeti National Park), before making an incredible journey through the vast Serengeti plains up and about in a clockwise direction, going to the phenomenal Masai Mara National Reserve in Southern Kenya. To make it more exciting, these wildlife species make a return trip back into Serengeti National Park towards the end of the year. The wildebeests, gazelles, zebras, and antelopes have to fight against all odds (including crossing crocodile-infested River Mara, escaping predators like lions, cheetahs and leopards) to make their way back, and these create the most photogenic moments of your trip.

All in all, the Great wildebeest migration is one of the most significant and unmissable herd movements of certain wildlife species, involving over 1000 animals per square kilometer and the greatest population being wildebeests. You can’t afford to miss the greatest show on the planet as predators also hide in the grass or woodlands, waiting to capture unsuspecting wildebeests, zebras, or gazelles.

This year-to-year cycle also leads wildlife species from Ngorongoro Conservation Area (southern end of Serengeti National Park) into Kenya’s Masai Mara National Park and back again, then the cycle goes on and on each year. Besides the challenge of crossing the crocodile-infested Mara River, the vulnerable calves also risk getting snatched by hungry predators especially leopards, cheetahs, and lions. The great wildebeest migration participants are categorized into three groups marked by varying grass-consuming habits. There is the first group of animals that consume the tip of tallest grass, then the second group that will consume the medium-sized grass until completion, and the ones that will consume only short grass.

This reduces competition since the animals will consume only what they are accustomed to and also, the different grass species in the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem are rich in protein and calcium.

What still puzzle researchers and interested travelers is the fact that these wildlife species have mastered which way to head every year and this is done without changing direction. However, it is believed that there movement is largely determined by the response to weather conditions- after the rains and blooming of new and fresh grasses.

The animals go through different phases and activities from January to March, April to May, June to July, August to October, and November to December.

January to March

At the start of each year, the great wildebeest migration cycle ends southwards as the animals go along the Eastern side of Serengeti National Park and towards Ngorongoro Conservation Area. During these months, the savannah plains are still rich in succulent grass hence providing the most favorable conditions for bringing forth life and even raising their newborn calves.

Although there is no clear start and end to the movement, apart from birth and death, it is obvious that the calving season is the genesis of the Great wildebeest migration. By the end of January or early February, herds start occupying the short and sparse grass plains sprawling towards the lower northern slopes of Ngorongoro Crater highlands and Olduvai Gorge. During this time, about 8000 wildebeest calves are born each day and this lasts 2-3 weeks.

The high population of vulnerable wildebeest calves draws the predators- cheetahs, leopards, and lions hence creating a spectacular sight for travelers.

April to May

After the birth of Calves, herds start heading northwestwards to savor the succulent grass within Central Serengeti National Park. By the end of May, several wildebeests have already migrated for a number of kilometers and can be seen converging at the spectacular Moru Kopjes.

For travelers staying at Dunia Camp during these months, expect jaw-dropping views and by the end of May, mating sets in as male wildebeests begin battling head to head. It is at this point that the great wildebeest migration starts gaining momentum as animals start moving in large numbers within the Serengeti western Corridor. It is at this point that they will cross River Grumeti, although this River crossing isn’t as spectacular as Mara crossing, considering there are relatively fewer crocodiles.

June to July

This marks the start of the dry season hence providing the most breathtaking views as the largest population of wildebeests moving in western Serengeti and the banks of River Grumeti is enjoyed. Here, more hurdles set in as they prepare to cross the Grumeti River, although this crossing is not as challenging as the Mara River in Masai Mara National Reserve.

During the start of July, lots of wildebeests as well as zebras continue northwards along the Serengeti’s western side to encounter another huge obstacle. If you are staying at Sayari Camp or the Mobile Migration Camps offer, expect remarkable views during this time of the year. For Rekero Camp visitors, enjoy beautiful views of the Talek and Mara River crossings.

August to October

At the onset of August, large herds of wildebeests are concentrated along the Northern side of Masai Mara National Reserve and about to face their biggest challenge of crossing River Mara. First, the high speed of this River combined with the panic and uncertainty of crossing it while fighting predators (lions and crocodiles) and changing currents causes a huge loss of life. The crocodiles are always hidden in the waters, while cheetahs, lions, and leopards can be seen patrolling at the banks and ready to capture any unsuspecting animals that make their way to the banks.

Between September and October, these animals will have successfully crossed eastwards but then return to face the same Crocodiles while returning back to Serengeti National Park.

November to December

Following the short rains of October to early November, wildebeest herds begin leaving Kenya to the eastern sides of Serengeti National Park, and beyond Namiri plains where they will encounter the highest cheetah population. Arrival into the Eastern and Southern boundaries is usually by December. This annual cycle then begins afresh with the onset of calving in January to March.

Best accommodation facilities to stay while witnessing the Great Wildebeest Migration in Serengeti National Park

If you wish to enjoy the best sight during the Great wildebeest migration within Serengeti National Park, then you should consider staying at Nyaruswiga Camp, Dunia Camp, Namiri Plains Camp, Lamai Serengeti Camp, Four Seasons Safari Lodge, Ubuntu Camp, Serengeti Under Canvas, Singita Faru Faru Lodge Grumeti Serengeti Tented Camp, Migration Camp, One Nature Sayari Camp, Serengeti Bushtops, Olakira Kichakani Serengeti Camp, Sanctuary Kusini, Mwiba Lodge, to mention but a few. These accommodation facilities come in different categories and offer varying experiences.

Where to stay while witnessing Great Wildebeest Migration in Masai Mara National Reserve

For Great wildebeest migration experiences in Masai Mara National Reserve, we recommend staying at Mahali Mzuri Camp, Angama Mara, Naboisho Camp, Governors II Moran Camp, Bateleur Camp, Rekero Safari Camp, Kuria Hills Lodge, Mara River Tented Camp, to mention but a few. However, while some of these facilities, offer all-year-round migration experiences, others are wonderful for seasonal migration patterns.

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