The greatest wildlife show on Earth
The Great Wildebeest Migration is also known as the “greatest wildlife show on Earth”. And no wonder. Taking place across the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Masai Mara in Kenya, it involves more than two million wildebeest, zebra, gazelle and other antelope. It is, quite simply, one of the greatest natural spectacles on the planet.
But people often get confused about the migration, thinking that it has start times and ending dates. The reality is, there is no beginning or end to the migration – the animals are always on the move, on a constant search for water and better grazing areas. The word Serengeti (which is derived from the Maasai word Siringitu) actually means “the place where the land moves on forever”. 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.
So what are those “things”, exactly?
The wildebeest spend much of the year grazing in the Serengeti plains. From January 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. Then, usually in June, 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.
You might see 50,000 of these beasts at one time. Drive through the wildebeest and it’s like Moses parting the Red Sea – the wildebeest just scatter.
By July, as the herds begin crossing from Tanzania to Kenya, predators such as lions are leopards are out in force, as the chance for some easy hunting is just too good to miss. But that’s just the terrestrial predators – the migration is a great time for crocodiles too! Their time comes when the herds face the greatest challenge of the entire migration: crossing the Mara River. Many are drowned or swept away in the struggle, and more still are taken down by the massive crocs. Finally, the herds reach their goal – fresh and nutritious short grasses in the Masai Mara. And then, in about October, they turn southward to head back to the Serengeti, making the same journey but in reverse.
So 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 – there’s no schedule you can rely on. This is truer now more than ever before thanks to our changing climate, and nothing is a given. Generally speaking, however, the best times to see the migration are between December and March, or May and November.
If you’re keen to witness this extraordinary, unforgettable spectacle and see life at its most elemental, remember that it’s – understandably – hugely popular, so you’ll need to book your trip at least a year in advance.
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