The Serengeti Wildebeest Migration is arguably the greatest wildlife spectacle on earth. Serengeti National Park is one of the oldest intact ecosystems on earth, it covers an area nearly the size of 14,763 sq. km and spans two countries Tanzania and the south and Kenya in the north, this northern extension of the Serengeti to Kenya is what is known as the famous Masai Mara National Reserve as is equally wildlife blessed. The most important driver of the Serengeti ecosystem is the wildebeest migration and the mechanism that triggers the huge wildebeest herds to move is the weather.
Serengeti Migration in October
Sometime around October thunder clouds build on the horizon of The Serengeti and the rains begin to move to southern Serengeti signaling the start of one of the greatest mass movements of animals on the planet. It begins with the actions of a single animal, then driven by an ancient instinct the rest of the herd follows. The Serengeti migration is a dangerous journey where predators wait along the route and prey on the passing herds and then there’s the treacherous crossing of the Mara river where wildebeest will die in the thousands.
Great Migration Calving Season (November – March)
At this time of the year, wildebeest have completed the first track of their year-long journey, they’ve arrived on the short grass plains of central and southern Serengeti where the females begin to give birth in what is the largest mass birth of mammals on the planet. Wherever you see a female wildebeest with what appears as legs sticking out of her, you know there’s a birth about to happen. Females usually find a flat patch to circle around which is usually within the safety of the herd to give birth. This is for obvious reasons lions and all kinds of predators are out on the prowl, especially in the mornings and they keep a watchful eye out for something just like a wildebeest birth. It is amazing how quickly a wildebeest birth happens, it is about five to ten minutes and within this time the baby is on its feet starting to move. The young are ready to go in the next five minutes and a new generation started. In a single day during this Serengeti migration calving season, about 8000 calves are born.
In a few months’ time, the babies will be strong enough to start the Serengeti migration up north. After a calf is on its feet, this is where it will imprint on its mother, they will get to know one another’s scent and call. It is an extremely smart adaptive strategy on these Serengeti open plains, the newborns are easy prey to the predators that follow the Serengeti wildebeest migration. Some will be taken but many more will survive. There are huge challenges ahead for the newborn wildebeests, in two months’ time the calves will be ready to join their mothers on the return trip up north but their first 24 hours are crucial for survival.
The wildebeest herds will spend the next few months in the short grass plains feeding on the rich grasses and nurturing their young but soon the rains will start moving north signaling the herds that it’s time to get going again. The Serengeti wildebeest migration is not just a defining piece of life on the Serengeti, it is also a key driver of the ecosystem, over the course of the year the millions of wildebeests drastically affect the landscape, the animals graze on the grasses allowing new shoots to grow and keeping the planes healthy. With millions of wildebeests, there’s a lot of waste, some of that dung fertilizes the grass which in turn helps it to grow for the next time the animals pass but there is so much done that nature has developed other solutions to make sure the planes are not overwhelmed in Serengeti National Park.
Serengeti Migration in April – July
The short grass plains in the south of the Serengeti begin to dry out, the rains start moving north as always, the wildebeest instinct compels them to follow the rains to lead them to better grazing land. The wildebeest calves have survived their first three months and are getting stronger, they need to because in just two months’ time they will face the greatest challenge of their lives; their first crossing of the crocodile-infested mara river. The Serengeti migration is heading north at this moment the herds usually split up into two groups one group going to the Serengeti Western Corridor and another group going east or continuing straight North. The group that heads west meets Grumeti River in the western corridor which sees the first River crossing of the wildebeests which occurs between May and July. The group going east usually continues into the Serengeti wilderness zone that’s inaccessible to tourists whereas the group heading straight north can be tracked. All the separated groups meet up to join again in Northern Serengeti in the areas close to the banks of the Mara River.
As the Serengeti wildebeest migration reaches the vegetated Northern Serengeti, the herds tend to move very fast, and for good reason, as they are moving through the woodlands and the wildebeest feel vulnerable here. Lions and other predators have lots of covers which gives them a great advantage when it comes to hunting wildebeest in this region. At this time of the year, the central part of the Serengeti is in its dry season as the rains have moved north, and the rivers and streams begin to recede leaving only small pockets of water. This affects different species in different ways, these small pools of water become gathering places for animals to drink and cool off and that makes a perfect place for predators like lions to find their next meal.
Serengeti Wildebeest Migration August – September
August finds the Serengeti wildebeest migration in the Northern tip of the Serengeti where the herds are in close proximity to the Mara River. The journey has covered 10 months and it is almost at an end. The Mara River is the lifeblood of the Northern Serengeti Ecosystem. It spans two countries beginning in the highlands of southern Kenya snaking its way across Tanzania’s border and emptying into lake victoria. its constant flows divide the park into two. The Serengeti wildebeest migration is heading to open grasslands on the side of the River into Masai Mara National Reserve where the herds will spend the next 3 months. This time of year they are usually all over the northern part of Serengeti and into the southern part of Masai Mara National Reserve.
The Great Migration Serengeti is not accurately predictable, sometimes the herds arrive faster or delay to enter Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. Usually, if the herds go slightly east, they can go into Kenya and cross the Mara River in the Masai Mara which is on the Kenyan side meaning that entire northern Tanzania misses out on seeing a migration and river crossings that season. Kenya is actually just a couple of kilometers away from the Northern Serengeti. With luck, the wildebeest arrive at the Mara River section on the Tanzanian side, so many animals dominate the plains and surrounding hills in thousands as they move towards the mara river to make the crossing.
Mara River Crossing
The Serengeti Wildebeest Migration will pack along the banks of the river and this is normally a good sign of them wanting to cross. The general direction is to keep on going north so these animals are definitely lined up for crossing which can happen anytime, the only way to witness this is to hang around and wait. It is August and the Serengeti migration north with one obstacle remaining; the crossing of the crocodile-infested Mara river with the presence of thousands of wildebeests on the shores of Mara River. The crocodiles of Mara River also lie around in anticipation, after the crossing point is passed up as the lead animals assess their chances of survival. Finally, they choose and a single animal descends unleashing a waterfall of wildebeest behind, these animals don’t plan to wait until they are ready to cross.
The first wildebeest jumps followed by others behind and within seconds hundreds of animals begin to snake their way across the river. It is at this point that the crocodiles are drawn to the commotion. Wildebeests can cross a whole morning or longer depending on the safety of the river point. Crocodiles are seen making their way in the line of wildebeest crossing, the crocodiles get into position as the wildebeest struggle to get up the other side, and usually, having seen the crocodiles the rest of the herd will stop crossing. The last of the crossing herd will quickly scramble up the far bank to safety but in the water action commotion crocodiles often catch the wildebeest.
With too many crocodiles to contend with, the wildebeests usually move on to a new crossing point just down or upriver to start another constant stream of animals just streaming through the river and you can estimate about now 10,000 animals at least that cross a launched crossing point.
Best time to see the Serengeti Migration
If you are primarily interested in viewing the Serengeti wildebeest migration, The best base is from December to April around the Seronera area (Central Serengeti) or the South-Eastern part of the park. Another major event is the crossing of the Grumeti River, which runs through the park’s Western Corridor and usually takes place between May and July, although the actual viewing window can be quite short as few of the herds make their way through the western corridor whereas most head straight north. There have been noted incidences over the years where the herds avoid the western corridor.
The Northern Serengeti, around Lobo and Klein’s Gate in Kotagende between August and October sees the last and returning events of the migration as the herds cross over to Masai Mara National Reserve and as they return back to Northern Serengeti in October. This is also where the famous Mara River Crossing happen. This Serengeti migration of wildebeest and zebra is one of the last remaining mega migrations of the planet and what makes this so successful is the fact that the Serengeti has been kept intact for so many years. The great migration Serengeti can be tracked all year long on safari depending on where the migratory will be. Kick start your migration safari planning by getting in touch with our expert safari planners at Masai Mara Holidays a Limited to get your safari ideas and dreams brought into reality.
Serengeti Safari Guide