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Serengeti wildebeest migration – step by step!

Posted in: Tanzania

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The Serengeti wildebeest migration through Tanzania and Kenya is one of nature’s greatest wildlife spectacles and is a must see event for wildlife lovers coming to Africa. However, like many complex mass movement of animals around the world – although very few remained which are not restricted by man in some way – there are interesting ‘subplots’ and ‘nuances’ which can push visitors to come to Tanzania at the best time for their particular wildlife event. Although above we refer to the Serengeti wildebeest migration, it should be remembered that the Great Migration in Tanzania and Kenya, consists of nearly 2 million ungulates, in the main part wildebeest; but also, Thomson’s Gazelle, Grant’s gazelle and Eland. As you will know, the Serengeti migration is linked to rainfall patterns and therefore the climate in Africa as a whole. This mass movement of wildlife follows the rains and the resulting fresh grazing which is highly nutritious. Hot on the heels of this herbivore freight train is the largest number of predators to be found anywhere in Africa.

Serengeti migration dates

Because the very nature of the wildebeest migration is cyclic we can start with one particular month or seasonal event and then ‘walk you through’ the different seasons and how this effects the movement of the wildebeest herds. So, let us start with the short rains which fall onto the Seronera plains in late November/December. With the arrival of these rains the wildebeest disperse here and enjoy the rich grazing and fresh grass. What follows is one of the most important events in the entire wildebeest migration and potentially the biggest and best wildlife viewing of the entire migration. The wildebeest calving in Tanzania which starts at the end of January and lasts until around the end of February, witnesses about half a million wildebeest giving birth simultaneously in the Serengeti and Ndutu. At the same time, we see the largest gathering of predators anywhere in Africa; with lions, hyena, leopard and cheetah following the movement of the herds closely and targeting the vulnerable young calves. Despite this presence of big cats, many young will survive due to the sheer numbers gathered in one place and they will stay in this area to enjoy the long rains, which last until May.

Towards the end of April the wildebeest start to prepare for the 800km northward migration. The actual departure date may come sometime between April and June, but when it does, you will witness truly the greatest land mammal migration spectacle in the world. With a column of wildebeest approximately 40km wide marching towards the first major river crossing – the Grumeti - which will deplete their numbers significantly, as they are predated by massive Nile crocodiles and big cats such as lions, leopard and cheetah. Despite these losses, we will still find hundreds of thousands of Wildebeest congregated in the western corridor by late June/early July.

The next stage of the Serengeti wildebeest migration now starts, with the vast herds roughly splitting into two distinct groups. One of these groups will head towards Kenya’s world famous Maasai Mara game reserve by crossing the beautiful Mara river. Although such crossings can start in late July, early August, the month of September is regarded as the best time for Mara river crossing and the best places to stay in the Masai Mara are lodges and tented camps close to the best rivers for wildebeest crossings. The second group of Wildebeest will disperse through the northern and western Serengeti and there is the odd Tanzania safari camp located here, from where you can enjoy watching the huge herds grazing.

By the end of October the wildebeest herds start to make their way back to the Seronera plains, where they will arrive sometime in the month of November and the Serengeti wildebeest migration will start all over again.

Wildebeest migration masai mara

Although it is not possible to predict the exact best time to visit the masai mara for the wildebeest migration, you can certainly time your safari to give yourself the best chance to see large herds; with the added bonus of possible mara river crossings or other river crossings in the area. You can choose to base yourself at one of the best masai mara camps, such as Entim Camp and spend 5 to 6 days focusing on positioning yourself for the spectacle of a river crossing and enjoying the associated big cat action as the resident predators look for an easy meal.

If you would like to witness the Serengeti Wildebeest migration in Tanzania then check out our spectacular wildebeest calving Tanzania safari. Or if you would like to patiently wait by the Mara river in Kenya’s Masai Mara then take a look at our wildebeest migration safari in the Masai Mara at Entim Camp

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