The great wildebeest migration is Africa’s largest annual single movement of wildlife, where over two million wildebeests – accompanied by a large number of zebras, gazelles, eland and impala – pour across the Serengeti plains in Tanzania to the Masai Mara in Kenya driven by instinct to find fresh grazing and better quality water. The wildebeest act as one entity out of necessity – to mate, survive or die on this journey of endurance.
For a quick video of the migration click here:
The short rains begin in early November, signifying the arrival of the herds of wildebeest on the short-grass plains of the Serengeti. Reaching as far as the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, these plains are home to adult wildebeest and calves until April, when their travels North begin.
Here are some interesting facts and statistics about Africa’s wildebeest and the Great Migration:
All wildebeest are native to Africa and the species that partakes in the Great Migration is the Western-bearded wildebeests. The Eastern white-bearded wildebeests can also be found in Tanzania and Kenya.
The Great Migration is the largest overland migration in the world.
The wildlife move in a clockwise direction over 2900 kilometres annually. Their pattern of movement is usually easy to predict – allowing travellers to plan ahead on where to go and when to witness the Great Migration.
Wildebeest have ‘swarm intelligence’ – the ability to systematically explore and overcome an obstacle as one unit.
While occupying the short-grass areas of the Southern plains of the Serengeti, pregnant wildebeest stay here until late-January, early-February when the calving season starts. Over 600 000 calves are born here. Born in such large numbers, it is easier for the calves to survive predators.
The Serengeti National Park is home to the oldest eco-system on the planet. It claims a diversity of indigenous plants and animals only to this area.
The end of March brings heavy rainfall in Tanzania, making this period an off-season for observing wildebeest.
At the beginning of May, the grass is reduced and the wildebeest begin migrating in search of more grass. They move North to areas that have enough water and where the grass is already much longer.
By early June, the wild animals start moving West in search of more food. Their travel pattern puts them at the River Grumeti populated by hippos and starving crocodiles that are ready to eat the wildebeests that come to drink from the River.
Between July and October, the wildebeest divide themselves into smaller herds in the North of Serengeti and the Masai Mara. During this time, the herds gather around bodies of water, particularly the Masai River – also home to hungry crocodiles.
By this time, the best place to view the Great Migration is Kenya (link to Serengeti/Masai accomodation) as the short October rains drive the wildebeest south of the Masai Mara.
The rains continue and motivates the wild animals to continue moving south and east. By December, the herds begin their return back to southern Serengeti which marks the end of that migration cycle.
Sadly, over 250 000 wildebeest die during the migration from Serengeti. The distance covered on this journey is so enormous that many lose their lives due to exhaustion, hunger, thirst and others are eaten by predators.
The crocodiles awaiting the wildebeest in the Mara River can lunge more than half of its body length out of the water to grab and drown their prey. They also use their tail as a secondary weapon. Adding to their threat list – more than 3000 lions living in the Serengeti follow the wildebeest across the reserve.
Witnessing the Great Migration is among the most iconic experiences you will encounter. Watch immeasurable amount of wildebeest and other wildlife travel up and down the African plains, crossing perilous rivers and returning via death-defying paths coursed with predators lying in ambush. Book with us now and see Africa’s most spectacular wildlife event.