The Great Migration is an annual, circular journey and phenomenal natural marvel beginning in Tanzania’s vast and beautiful Serengeti on Africa’s east side in the Ngorongoro region. It is a momentous event and most captivating, drawing thousands of people from around the world hoping for a look at the magnificent wildebeest and other ungulates (hoofed animals) including eland, zebra, making the tiresome, unrelenting, 310 mile journey beginning in the southern Serengeti and into the northernmost edge of the stunning Masai Mara National Reserve in quest of water and fresh pastures. There is no other such mass movement made by land mammals on the planet.
The Great Migration is an infinite journey from the northern range of the Ngorongoro Conservation region north across the short grass plains of the Serengeti, into the lush rolling hills of the Maasai Mara, and back through the woodlands to the southern Serengeti where the calves ar born. Grazing availability is the determining factor; the highlands of the Ngorongoro welcome the highest levels of precipitation in the migration cycle, creating a safe haven for ungulates once dry season ceases. Essentially the wildebeest take advantage of the strongly seasonal conditions, spending the wet season on the plains in the south-east, and the dry season in the woodlands of the north-west.
The Serengeti Great Migration is the never-ending quest for survival through the search for food and water. The wildebeest cycle through a season of birth between January and March more or less birthing their calves simultaneously within a few weeks of each other. During this time period, the grazing conditions are optimum throughout the shorter grass plains at the foot of the Gol Mountains. At this period, the rains have been generous and the grass is plentiful. Almost one million zebra precede more than 1.1 million wildebeest and African plains game numbering in the hundreds of thousands to the area each year.
The animals take advantage of the conditions of different seasons; they are in the plains during the wet season in the southeastern region and in the northwest’s woodlands during the dry season but the direction and timeline of the Great Migration can be hard to pinpoint exactly; their food sources are greatly influenced by local conditions. This means in some years the herds might move away from the open plains slightly earlier then expected and stay within the woodlands in the north for longer.
It is during February that the herd remains on the plains of the south east both grazing and birthing some 500,000 calves. They then travel northwest to the Serengeti’s Western Corridor and the Grumeti River in May where they generally stay into June. This is where the wildebeest face their first and fiercest obstacle; massive crocodiles waiting for the weakest of the herds to stumble while crossing. The herds journey north from the Grumeti, some migrating slightly into Klein’s Camp Concession prior to crossing into Kenya in later July and August and to the Masai Mara where their next river crossing is the Mara, again filled with fleets of ravenous crocs. The Masai Mara is their home until they move on once again in September or October. As the rainstorms arrive in the southern region, the Great Migration cycle is completed as the herds once again return to the point where they began; their breeding ground is lush and green and ready to lead them into a new cycle.
Best Times to See the Migration
Best Times to See the Migration
You can witness the migration at any time of year - the megaherd is just doing different things in different areas at different times. The stunning Great Migration draws thousands of annual visitors into the Serengeti, Masai Mara Natural Reserve and different areas throughout the circular route. The wildebeest are the star of the show, supported by impala, gazelle, zebra, and eland. With a fairly predictable pattern, many visitors go on safari in hopes of spotting the mass herds of ungulates. Since they are migrating throughout the year, knowing where to look rather than when is a good question. Most tourists like to hit the highlights. Perhaps the most dramatic scenes occur during the two major river crossings, which occur in June/July and September/October. February/March is also dramatic, as the hundreds of thousands of female wildebeest calve (within days of each other) in February/March. June is the rutting season, which can also be dramatic as the males fight each other and carve out their harems. The North American summer is the best time to see the millions of wildebeest spread like a carpet across the Maasai Mara. However, unlike the Serengeti, the Mara has permanent water - so a subtantial number of animals (including herds of wildebeest) remain there year-round.