Experience the Great Wildebeest Migration

The Great Wildebeest Migration. It’s an endless loop of hooves and horns, hope and heartbreak encompassing Africa’s Serengeti and Masai Mara – countless creatures in thrall to the rains and new grass.

I’ve been lucky enough to witness this inexorable flow of life on several occasions, each time choosing different locations and months of the year to enjoy the best viewing. Picking my single most memorable migration moment would be tough – suffice to say that the patience, endurance and courage of the wildebeest will make an indelible impression on you.

It’s a common misconception that the migration only happens at certain times. The animals in fact are continuously moving, plodding more or less the same annual route through Kenya and Tanzania. Witnessing the migration is all a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and choosing between fixed camps and semi-mobile operations, which can follow the herds.

They may seem as though they were designed by committee, but wildebeest are supremely adapted to undertaking this ceaseless international trek. Along the way, they somehow give birth to the next generation, and run the gauntlet of the claws and jaws of a fearsome range of reptilian and mammalian predators.

Well over 1.5 million trudging, leaping wildebeest are involved each year, alongside roughly 400,000 Thomson’s gazelle, 300,000 zebra and 12,000 eland. Highlights to plan your trip around are seeing them calving in the short-grass savannah of the southern Serengeti (February and March), crossing the perilous Grumeti and Mara rivers (July and August), or simply watching them on the move (in the Masai Mara from July to September, and the Serengeti the rest of the year). This is compelling natural theatre at its best.

How the great migration works

January–March

In the first three months of the year, the herds spread out and graze on the lush, short-grass plains of Tanzania’s southeastern Serengeti, slowly moving into the southern Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater Area. Around February, there’s a two-to-three week calving season; the plains are littered with unsteady babes, which attract lots of predator attention.

April–June

During the long rains of April and May, the herds and their young migrate northwards through the central Serengeti towards the western Serengeti, passing the Moru Kopjes. Impressive, 40km-long columns can be seen trudging along, enjoying the first green flush that the water brings to the land. Around June, they mass again in the Western Corridor, building up the courage to cross the perilous Grumeti River.

July–September

These months are the toughest for the herds – and the most dramatic for spectators – as this is when they cross the flooded Grumeti and Mara rivers. After the Grumeti crossing in July, the herd make its way northeast through the Grumeti Reserves. In August or September it splits: some animals cross the Mara River, entering Kenya’s Masai Mara, while others linger in the northern Serengeti.

October–December

In October the animal’s bravery is rewarded with plenty of good grazing, in the northern reaches of Tanzania’s Serengeti or across the border in Kenya’s Masai Mara. November’s short rains drive the herds south again, towards the replenished grass of the northeastern Serengeti. Some cross the Mara and Sand rivers en route, but the water is calmer now and less dangerous. By December, they’re usually in the eastern and central Serengeti, with their sights on the southeast, where the annual loop starts all over again.

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