Wildebeest Migration
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THE GREAT MIGRATION

The migration of herds is one of the world's most spectacular wildlife events.  Often referred to as the ĎGreatest Show on Earth', The Great Migration is a movement of approximately 1.5 million wildebeest and zebra throughout the Serengeti and Masai Mara ecosystems.  The animals move at least 50kms a day to follow the path of the rain in order to feed off the new grass whilst also being close to a good water supply.  Standing water may be found in different areas each year, may even be spread across different areas of the Serengeti.  In the latter case, the herds may split and later regroup.

 

There isnít really a beginning nor an end to the Great Migration, it is a circular, never-ending pilgrimage that starts again and again. Animals will follow the circular clockwise route year after year, back and forth from the Serengeti National Park, in northern Tanzania, to the Masai Mara National Reserve, in southern Kenya.  The exact timing of the Great Migration cannot be predicted, as it depends on each year's rainy season and other variable factors.

 

 

Despite the wealth of maps and illustrations showing the path of the migrating herds, as with anything in Nature, the actual day to day pattern is unpredictable and one cannot be held responsible for seasonal changes that cause the migration to vary.

 

Many have studied and planned itineraries to fit in with the moving herds for years, but cannot hope to say exactly where they will be next year! If your wish is to safari at the heart of The Great Migration, it is advisable to book a mobile tented lodge/safari that will ascertain camping grounds close to departure date.

 

The following is only a General Description of the migration pattern:

From December to mid-March the wildebeest and zebra herds congregate scattered across around Ndutu, in the far Southern section of the Serengeti and the northern Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania is where all the action plays out during this time. Generally, January through to mid-March is when things begin, with the game animals giving birth to their young and start preparing for the northern trek.  Several hundred thousand wildebeest calves are born during this period each year, with the largest number born within a two to three week span in February; yet less than half will live to see their five-month birthday. Predators like the Serengeti lions, cheetah, hyenas, jackals and other predators are plentiful in the area at this time of year take advantage of the abundance of slower calves, picking from the thousands of potential victims.

From April to May, the animals set off North into the plains of the central Serengeti as the Southern plains have dried up at the end of the long rainy season, and its mineral-rich pastures become increasingly worn out.  The adults and the surviving young shift their attention to the central areas of the park, moving towards the Serengeti's western corridor. This funnel-shaped piece of land runs from the Central Serengeti in a western direction to the park boundary near Lake Victoria's shore.  The herds gather to form columns up to 25 miles long as they begin their trek, following a North West direction, into the Western Corridor (near Lake Victoria), where they'll find fresh tall grasses. Although the herds include many different herbivores, the big numbers are made by Wildebeest, of course, Thomson's gazelle, and Zebra: respectively, 1.3 million, 360 thousand, and 191 thousand.  Integration among the migration companions is highly accomplished. On the one hand, each species eats a different part of the grass sward and so do not compete.  On the other, a larger number provides a greater safety for individuals, as there are more targets for predators.  Unfortunately, gazelles and zebras aren't the wildebeest's only companions.  Several gangs of predators, which are territorial rather than migratory, hunt as the massive herds pass through their terrain - most notably lions and hyenas - march along closely following an irresistible and fairly convenient-to-catch protein source. Hunting is not strictly necessary: many animals will fall to the fatigue of the trip, making an easy lunch for the meat-eaters.  The mating season for wildebeests also occurs between late May and early June.

 

Between June and July, arriving at the corridor, the Migration splits in two; one heads directly to the North of the Serengeti entering the private Grumeti Reserve, with a small portion splitting off and heading northeast, to the Lobo area.  The other group goes West into the Western Corridor before the millions of grazers are forced to cross the great rivers that run into Lake Victoria.  The migration route is cut again and again by the rivers - Mara, Grumeti, and Mbalangeti and their tributaries.  Rivers are most feared by gnus and their co-migrants, not only for the steep banks and harsh torrents, but also because of the crocodile populations that lie in wait, impatient to sink their teeth on the warm meat.  There is usually an unpredictable waiting period of one to two weeks as the animals prepare for the life-threatening crossing.  Ironically, it is usually the first animals that attempt to cross that are taken by the Grumeti crocodiles.  The resident crocodiles feast as the long train of wildlife tries to cross unscathed.

 

The best time to see this migration in action in the western and northern Serengeti is usually in this June to August period.  In August the migration reaches the far northern Ikorongo controlled Area. There are a few excellent camps in this area from which you can witness this natural phenomenon.

 

As the plains of the western Serengeti dry out and the grasses are depleted, the migration must continue.  Between July and mid-August, the wildebeest, zebras and gazelles leave the Serengeti and Tanzania, cross the Mara River and head into Kenya's Masai Mara, settling scattered around the abundant grasslands where lush green pastures await and water is always available. 

 

They will remain in the Mara until October or November, returning South across the Tanzanian border once the Southern Serengetiís November short rainy season has started prompting them to begin their journey south.  Thousands of large mammals travel fast, heads down and hooves stomping, to the Serengeti's southern plains and the Ngorongoro Highlands, back to their breeding grounds beckon once again and the cycle begins anew in December.

 
   

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