All You Should Know About the Great Wildebeest Migration

All You Should Know About the Great Wildebeest Migration

Known as the greatest migrations of land mammals, this phenomenal migration starts on the plains of the Serengeti and leads through the Masai Mara. These wildebeest are following the rain.

The experience isn’t something that can be easily described. Even though there are many wildlife shows and documentaries capturing this spectacle, seeing it in real life is something you can’t compare. The migration is an iconic wildlife experience for any nature lovers or travel enthusiasts.

Track the blue wildebeest through the grassy expanse of the Serengeti, to the Mara River as they take their chances with predators to reach new grazing lands. Kenya and Tanzania are praised for hosting some of the best safari holidays for the great migration.

The Great Wildebeest Migration

Wildebeest migration crossing the Mara river

Each year over 1.5 million blue wildebeest migrate from Tanzania’s Serengeti to the south of Kenya’s Masai Mara. The wildebeest travel close to 3000 kilometers in search of green grazing grass and fresh water supplies.

It’s no easy task for the wildebeest. Almost 250,000 wildebeest are killed during the migration, not due to predation, but as a result of exhaustion, hunger and thirst. The migration route will also take the mammals through the Mara River, where Nile crocodiles will await their arrival and target the weak and slow.

It’s not only the wildebeest that make this treacherous journey. Large numbers of zebra, gazelles, impala, and eland accompany the wildebeest. It’s truly one of the greatest spectacles of wildlife behavior and how the animals have a shared kind of knowledge.

How to Witness the Great Wildebeest Migration

Wildebeests on charred grass.

This annual migration loops around the entire Serengeti ecosystem and isn’t limited to one particular region. The best, and safest way, to witness the migration is by booking a couple of days at a safari park.

You’re guaranteed to see the migration as professional guides and expert safari operators take you to the perfect vantage points to watch the animals gallop across the plains and swim across the rivers.

Given the fact that the migration happens in both Kenya and Tanzania, you can decide on which country appeals best to you. Both are home to incredible safari lodges, that offer daily game drives to see the wildebeest. But depending on the time you plan on visiting, the areas where you’ll overlook the migration differ.

The Best Areas to See the Travelling Herds of Wildebeest

The wildebeest migration is circular and spans over three main regions, found in both Tanzania and Kenya. These regions show off amazing sightings of the wildlife drama, where you’ll be able to see the entire migration cycle.

Great Migration - Two million wildebeest cross the Mara river between Kenya and Tanzania

Serengeti National Park

The Serengeti National Park hosts the migration for the majority of the year, which makes it so popular among tourists. As the season’s change, the different areas of the park become more populated as the mammals search for the richest grazing grounds.

Masai Mara Game Reserve

The migration into Masai Mara typically starts in late July and ends in late September as the wildebeest make their way over the Mara River.

The river crossing is one of the most dramatic migration scenes and it’s why many viewers choose to visit this reserve. Huge herds of wildebeest try to cross the river in great confusion and angst as they try to avoid the crocodiles and protect their young.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area

As the rainy season begins, the wildebeest make their way to Ngorongoro Conservation Area to graze upon the nutrient-rich grass. These grasslands are the ideal spot for wildebeest calves, and the nutrients will sustain the young and help strengthen them for their journey ahead.

When to Go and See the Migration

Rather than thinking of the migration as something that happens at one particular time and place, think of it as an ongoing event that happens as the seasons change. The wildebeest will move around the Serengeti regions in a clockwise motion following the rains.

The overall best time for viewing the migration is at the beginning of September, during the Mara River crossing. But the wildebeest’s movements can be seen continuously throughout the year.

Wildebeest migration crossing the Mara river

December – April

During late December, the south of the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro plains have been blessed with rains, turning it into the perfect grounds for grazing and calving. Around February there are high chances of witnessing the wildebeest giving birth, as well as seeing predator interaction as the big cats prey on the young.

By the end of March, the wildebeest start their slow journey back North as the grasslands begin to dry out.

May – June

As May arrives, all of the wildebeest have started their journey up to the North. You’ll see the mammals congregating in big herds as they navigate their way in search of more food and water.

In May, the wildebeest, joined by zebra, gazelles, and impala, cross over the Grumeti River. The river is densely populated with crocodiles, and this may be the only time of the year that the crocs have an abundant feeding opportunity.

July – Beginning August

The migration now covers the heart of the Serengeti National Park and the Grumeti Reserves. In August the herds will gradually start making their way over the border and into Kenya, in hopes of crossing the Mara River.

Gradually the herds will divide into smaller groups, with the majority staying in the northern region, and the bravest having left for their trek to Masai Mara reserve.

End August – Beginning September

This is when you’ll be able to witness the iconic wildebeest migration. The wildebeest like to remain in close herds in order to reduce their risk against the hungry crocodiles.

Once the wildebeest have taken a leap in the water, there’s no going back. They often have to jump from high banks to cross the river, and the river becomes extremely packed with the rest of the herd.

Although it can be heartbreaking to watch, it’s also one of the greatest spectacles in nature. It tells an incredible story of how the food chain in nature works.

October – November

After the craze of crossing the river, the wildebeest head back to the south of the Serengeti to await the rainfall. The rain will deliver fresh grazing grounds, where they can then begin breeding. And so the cycle of the great migration starts all over again.

To Sum Up the Great Wildebeest Migration

Wildebeest

The weather patterns and rain cycles have an enormous effect on how these African beauties survive in the wild. The opportunity to observe the great African ‘circle of life’ is something so incredibly unique, and these memories will last you a lifetime.

Watch in awe and anticipation as you watch the wildebeest gather up the courage to attempt the river crossing. Sit in absolute silence as you patiently wait for the first wildebeest to make its move. Hold your breath in hopes that the animals will make their way safely across the dangerous waters.

Reading about the great migration can be a great way to better understand how these cycles in life work, and it’ll leave you with a newfound respect for these African creatures.

Featured Image: Jorge Láscar

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One Comment

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