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The Great Migration is the ever-moving circular migration of over a million animals across the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem.  The constant movement of vast columns of wildebeest, joined by a host of companions, follow an age-old route in search of fresh pastures and water. 

Migration experience in the northern Serengeti

I will never forget my first Migration experience in the northern Serengeti – the dust, the noise, the smells, and the ever present thrill of the herds making a dash for it! It is no wonder it is one of the most sought-after experiences for wildlife and nature enthusiasts.

The Great Migration is the ever-moving circular migration of over a million animals across the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. The constant movement of vast columns of wildebeest, joined by a host of companions, follow an age-old route in search of fresh pastures and water.

The year-long journey takes them across the plains of the Masai Mara in Kenya, across into Tanzania through the Serengeti and south to the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater, before circling up and around in a clockwise direction. Along the way, high drama is always present, as thousands of animals are taken by predators and thousands more are born, replenishing the numbers, and sustaining the circle of life.  Most will survive the hazards faced along the way, but hundreds of thousands won’t.  This is one of the main reasons why so many travellers venture to Kenya and Tanzania for a Migration safari, especially around mid-year.

What is the Great Migration?

The Great Migration is the largest herd movement of land-animals on the planet. In fact, with up to 1,000 animals per km², the great columns of wildebeest can be seen from space. Though it is sometimes referred to as annual event, the Great Migration is actually a fluid and continuous, year-long journey of animals migrating through Tanzania and Kenya. Whether you go in March or December, the migration will be “on” – it’s just that the animals will be doing different things, and in different places. 

Every year, about two million wildebeest and zebra along with topi and other gazelle move  from Tanzania’s South, through the Serengeti to Kenya’s Masai Mara in search of abundant grazing pastures and life-giving water. Guided by survival instinct, each wildebeest will cover 800 to 1,000km on its individual journey along age-old migration routes.  The circuit takes the animals from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, through the southern, central and northern Serengeti in Tanzania, and across into the Masai Mara in Kenya and back again into Tanzania. The journey is beset with danger: young calves are snatched by predators, the slow are brought down by prides of lion, brave beasts break legs on steep river slopes, crocodiles take their share of the stragglers, and the weak and exhausted drown in this natural spectacle also known as ‘the greatest show on Earth’ and the ultimate ‘Circle of Life’.  

If you’re keen to witness this extraordinary, unforgettable spectacle and see life at its most elemental, remember that it’s hugely popular, so you’ll need to book your trip well in advance. 

Why should you see the Great Migration?

To see the Great Migration is to embark on a safari of the most epic proportions.   The modern Africa safari is a concept born in East Africa; in fact, the word “safari” means “journey”.

Watching thousands of wildebeest teeming over the plains, crushing across a river or stampeding away from ruthless predators is a breathtaking experience unlike anything else on Earth. And imagine, all of this from the up-close view of your game vehicle! It’s no wonder this safari is on the bucket list of most globetrotters. 

 What’s more, the Great Migration makes its way through some of the most breathtaking ecosystems in East Africa, full of game life such as elephants, rhinos, giraffes, leopards, hyenas and more, including two of the continent’s most famous national parks, the Serengeti and the Masai Mara. This combined with adventures such as hot air ballooning, safari bush walks, meeting local communities and playing a part in conservation -makes a Migration Safari the dream Journey.

When is the best time of the year to see the Great Migration?

There is no one “best” time to see the migration: it all depends on what you want to see – and what the rains are doing, as they largely drive the migration. But the rains are unpredictable and never the same each year.  Most importantly, different months of the year offer different highlights and it is up to the traveller to choose which ones they are most excited to see.

The wildebeest spend much of the year grazing in the Serengeti plains. December to March is an exciting time, as this is calving season and the plains are full of baby wildebeest all preparing for their first incredible journeys.  The herds spend most of their time on the short-grass plains of the southern Serengeti. In this region, wildebeest are everywhere you turn, providing an overwhelming insight to how big these herds really are.  February is calving season – some 300,000 to 400,000 calves are born within two to three weeks of each other. The sea of grass provides little cover and these young are easy prey for carnivores.

Wildebeest calving season at Ndutu Safari Lodge

Fun Fact

Calves can run within minutes of being born, providing an incredible spectacle of life.

By April, as nutritious grass in the southern and central regions gets eaten up, the herds embark on their northern exodus to greener pastures.    Then, usually from around May, the dry season takes hold and the grasslands start to wither. This is when the herds begin to gather, ready to head north on a quest for life-giving greener pastures. Massing together, they form an enormous single herd and pour northwards. It’s an endless cavalcade of grey, highlighted with flashes of black and white as zebras join in.  They make their way through the western Serengeti in May, and by June and July, the masses are prepared for another dramatic natural display—river crossings.  Two major rivers, the Grumeti and the Mara, lie in the path of the migration, and watching the herds cross these water bodies is an incredibly exciting experience- one that has seen countless nature documentaries.

First, herds start to gather at the riverside, fearful of crossing the crocodile-infested waters that could spell the end of their journey. Then, with no visible trigger, the first wildebeest will take a leap of faith into the river below, and the dam is broken. Hundreds of wildebeest immediately swarm across the river in a confusing crush of bodies, desperate to make it to the other shore. Though most will make it across, many will fall prey to the patient and hungry crocodiles these rivers are known for.  If you are lucky, you may see herds of up to 50 000 beasts at one time. 

By October, most of the masses have made their way to the northern Serengeti and Kenya’s famous Masai Mara, greeted by hungry lions waiting to chase down their prey in a heart stopping display of natural selection.

The wildebeest graze through the grasslands of the Mara into November until the arrival of the rains drive them to the northern Serengeti once more, completing their circular route- and it all starts again…

In the words of The Lion King…“It’s the circle of life, And it moves us all”.

In this article
  • The Great Migration
  • What is the Great Migration?
  • Why should you see the Great Migration?
  • When is the best time of the year to see the Great Migration?

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