The Great Wildebeest Migration
What is the Great Migration?
The Great Migration is the single greatest mass movement of land mammals on the planet. Each year, around 1.5 million wildebeests and 300,000 zebras – along with other antelope – gather up their young and start their long trek from Tanzania’s Serengeti Plains, further north to Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. The animals cross the plains and rivers in search of rain-ripened grass and water as the seasons change. The river crossings are considered the main attraction of the migration as thousands of animals gallop across the plains and cross the raging, crocodile-infested rivers.
When the herds arrive they herald a frenzy of feeding unparalleled in nature, which, in turn, attracts the attention of Africa’s greatest predators. Lions, hyenas, cheetahs, leopards and crocodiles all have the wildebeest and zebra on their hitlist. It’s easy to understand why this epic spectacle has been called, ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’.
Where is the Great migration?
The Great Migration generally moves in a clockwise motion through the Serengeti Plains in Tanzania and the Masai Mara Reserve in Kenya, and then back again forming one big circle. It depends on the time of year when one can see the herds in the different regions.
When is the Great Migration?
There is no start or finish as such but we commonly say the migration goes from the Serengeti Plains in a northwesterly direction towards the famous Masai Mara Game Reserve. The exact timing and route of the migration changes from year to year - depending on the rains.
In January and February, the annual rains hit the Serengeti allowing the female wildebeest herd to start giving birth. By March or April, the area has dried out and become desolate again so the massive grouping of animals are forced to move northwards towards Lake Victoria where they begin the mating season. After this, they head towards the Masai Mara in June or July and this is where most people come to witness the sight of thousands of animals galloping across the plains and crossing the notoriously risky Mara River.
These river crossings are best seen between July and September. The animals actually cross back and forth continuously between the two areas during this time. In September, the animals cross back into the Serengeti. After September, there is still a tail end of the migration which lags behind the main herds. If you are late you can still hope to catch the last of them. The animals then go back down to the Serengeti plains from where they started at the beginning of the year.
In Tanzania, the best time to witness the migration is divided between two different periods. In the Southern Serengeti it is in February and March. The animals are grazing now and can be seen in their immense numbers. It is good for seeing the animals give birth and to witness the baby animals find their feet. It is at this time that the predator activity is at its highest too. And for the “Spectacular Wildebeest River Crossing” that is best seen July through to September in the Northern Serengeti.
How to do it
As always, nothing is guaranteed when it comes to wildlife. The movement of the Great Migration is determined by the rains and so we can never say in advance where the herds will exactly be. In order to guarantee sightings, we recommend booking multiple lodges and destinations.
There are three ways to get you to the Great Migration;
The most convenient way to see the Great Migration is to fly into the national parks (or as close to the national parks as you can in some cases) and then be met and transferred by the lodge’s vehicle to the lodge. The game drives are then conducted in the lodge’s safari vehicles. This is the easiest way and allows you to see the most variety of lodges.
The second option is to do a private safari by road where it is only you and your travel party in the vehicle with your personal driver-guide. With this approach, you have the flexibility to stay at different lodges and you get to determine which national parks you would like to visit.
A scheduled trip is one where you can join a group with a maximum of seven people where you will share the vehicle and driver-guide costs between you and the group. This is the most affordable way of travelling. This scheduled safari is done by road with a predetermined route and no flexibility. With a scheduled safari, you will save on costs but will be limited as you have to follow a set itinerary and stay at predetermined lodges.
Most visitors will fly into the Kilimanjaro airport in Arusha in Tanzania and start their journeys there. Major airlines such as KLM, Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airways fly directly to Kilimanjaro Airport. It is not a straightforward affair to cross the Kenya/Tanzania border as a fair amount of travel is involved, but that is something that an experienced safari company such as Rhino Africa can easily arrange for you.
Visitors are required to get a yellow fever vaccination as you may be asked for a certificate after departing Tanzania and arriving at other destinations. The risk of malaria here is moderate but it is advised that you take a prescription antimalarial drug, use insect repellent, wear long pants and sleeves to prevent bites, and sleep in well-screened rooms. Please note that the level of risk for vaccine-preventable diseases can change at any time. See a health-care provider at least 4–6 weeks before your trip to allow time for your vaccines to take effect and to start taking medicine to prevent malaria.
Kenya offers Africa's most traditional safari experience with open plains and an amazing array of wildlife. Whether you want to witness the Great Migration, climb Mount Kenya or relax on tropical beaches, this country has a lot to offer.
The gem of East Africa, Tanzania offers world-class game viewing in the Serengeti and other national parks, the chance to scale Africa's highest mountain, not to mention palm-fringed beaches and Zanzibar Island. What an amazing country.
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