Our guide to
Great Migration Safaris
Greatest wildlife show on earth
The migration is more than wildebeest, certainly they assume the lead role with some 1.5 million. There are also some 350,000 Thomson’s gazelle, 200,000 zebra and 12,000 eland. Moving around approximately 40,000 square kilometres in the Mara and Serengeti eco systems, the migration is not one single herd or movement and there is no start nor end, it’s a constant search for food and water.
The only beginning is the moment of birth. An estimated 300,000 – 400,000 wildebeest calves are born during a two week period each year between late January and mid March when optimum grazing is available on the short grass plains at the base of the Gol Mountains.
From here, the highly complex natural phenomenon of the Great Migration continues, with over two million herbivores moving and grazing across the Serengeti-Mara ecosystems creating the greatest wildlife spectacle in the world.
The migration path varies from year to year depending on weather and other environmental factors that impact upon the quality and availability of grazing land and water.
The wildebeest migration can be seen in Kenya’s Masai Mara or Tanzania’s Serengeti at different times of the year.
Great migration safaris are the chance to see great wildebeest herds and other herbivores plus the predator action that occurs. The wildebeest are continuously moving and predators are not able to keep up because they are territorial and don’t want to risk abandoning their land or invading the regions of others.
The young of predators are also more dependent upon their mothers so they cannot risk great durations or distances of separation.
What is the great migration?
The Migration is simply one moving herd of animals that is cyclical throughout the year and continuous. There is a main herd, the largest in size and sub-herds that splinter off. The herds often spread out over vast areas, even both sides of the Mara River in Kenya and Tanzania.
We always recommend spending time in two different locations to maximise your chance of seeing the great migration on safari. You will also see more than just the migrating animals and predators. The resident wildlife in the different areas of the Serengeti and Masai Mara are also a sight to see.
Accommodation options on great migration safaris vary from adventure style tented camps, luxury camps to luxury lodges and a handful of larger hotel chain style properties. It’s always ideal to have your own private professional guide and vehicle so you can go wherever the wildlife takes you. When sharing vehicles, you have to negotiate and compromise with the wants and desires of other travellers.
Great Migration Cycle
Pregnant and Birthing: December – February
Serengeti Ndutu grazing on new grass growth in stronger numbers for protection because in February they almost all have had their young. It’s then time to move again by March when they head west.
On the move Northwards: March – May
Once the babies are born, the herds head north through the Central Serengeti region and up into Grumeti and the Western Corridor.
River Crossings: June – July
The migration herds seem to be crossing from Tanzania’s Serengeti into Kenya’s Masai Mara earlier each year as weather changes. Nowadays, it can be anytime from June.
Splinter Herds and Grazing: August – September
Herds can still be crossing over from Tanzania into Kenya and at this time the herd breaks into a greater number of sub herds as they spread out through the Masai Mara area to graze.
River Crossing: September – October
Once again, the herds will congregate and move south back over the river and enter Tanzania for the fresh green shoots from the short rains.
Central Station: November
Herds move down through Central Serengeti again. Females are by now pregnant.
Unbelievable and truly moving, the birthing period of the migration is spent over the lower northern slopes of the Ngorongoro Crater highlands, Olduvai Gorge and Ndutu Plains. There, the hundreds of thousands of babies are born into the world literally within a few weeks. A newborn wildebeest has to gain coordination quicker than any other animal due to intense predator numbers and they are usually up on their feet within a matter of three minutes.
At just five minutes, a calf is able to stand, start to run and within ten minutes it will be running with the herd. In less than a day or two it can outrun a lioness with its agility.
The great migration is truly a moving feast for large predators and driving across the landscape you can count a huge number of hyenas and dozens of lions at the ready.
With the rains setting in, the herds move north west through the granite rock outcrops in Moru and Simba and into the Seronera woodlands. It is this time that the rutting begins with half a million cows mating in less than a month. Rutting seems to be more influenced by the moon than rainfall and its usually the full moon around May/June that sees the exciting rutting.
This is a fight between males seeking dominance that can look aggressive and violent yet there is not usually serious injuries sustained.
What does happen often is injuries can result in easy prey created for predators especially lion and cheetah in this region.
Literally thousands of zebra and wildebeest cross the Mara River during the annual migration between Kenya and Tanzania. This is the most jaw-dropping spectacle in the region and only between July and October depending on rainfall. There are never guarantees with wildlife sightings and river crossings are no different. Sometimes you can sit all day waiting for a skittish herd to cross.
For those fortunate enough to see a river crossing, it is often exhilarating and you will feel nervous and anxious watching hundreds of animals plunge down river banks into the crocodile infested waters hoping to get to the other side.
What are the best times for great migration safaris?
It depends on what part of the Migration you wish to see. The precise timing of the wildebeest migration is weather dependent – so it is all based on rainfall patterns as the animals prefer short grass, fresh and nutritious.
We always recommend at least 2 locations in the Serengeti / Mara ecosystems depending on the time of year so you spread your chances.