The Great Wildebeest Migration Travel Guide


What is the Great Wildebeest Migration?

Migration is one of the most incredible things the Serengeti-Mara Ecosystem is famous for. The great wildebeest migration is one of the largest mass movements of herbivores that sees over 1.5 million Wildebeests accompanied by hundreds of thousands of Zebras and Gazelles which embark on over 600 miles long journey traversing through plains of the Serengeti in Tanzania and the savannahs of Maasai Mara Reserve in Kenya, annually.

It is termed Great Wildebeest Migration as the majority of the animals in the scene are the Wildebeests. Another popular name used for this event is “The Great Serengeti Migration”.

The migration cycle starts across the southern plains of Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and then moves in a clockwise manner following northwest direction towards Maasai Mara Reserve in Kenya. While the Serengeti and the Maasai Mara are the most popular places wildlife migration safaris, the migration cycle is not limited to the two places only as the Wildebeests embark on their search of fresh grazing fields and watering holes.

The Great Migration is an ultimate test of survival. It is a journey that demands resilience, stamina, agility and vigilance. As the Wildebeests embark on their search for water and greener pastures, their journey is not without challenges, they encounter numerous threats. From threats posed by predators such as Lions, Hyenas, Wild dogs, Cheetahs and Crocodiles to the deadly river crossings, unpredictable climate to natural causes such as diseases, fatigue and starvation. As a result, thousands of vulnerable Wildebeests and Zebras die in the course.

However, despite their journey being fraught with danger and hardships, the herds continue in their never-ending journey as they seek for fresh pastures, water and the ultimate survival in the evolutionary race.

The Migration Cycle: How Do Wildebeests Migrate?

The migration follows a clockwise cyclical pattern which is repeated every year. Each Wildebeest migration cycle can be divided into five distinct phases. They include calving season, river crossings, mass trekking northwards, grazing in the Mara and the journey back to Serengeti. Each of the phases takes place in a different part, season and at a different time of the year.

Calving Season

At the onset of the rainy season, the Wildebeests begin to gather around Ndutu area in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area extending all the way to the neighboring southern plains of Serengeti National Park. During this season, the vast plains of this area are covered with short grass, making it a perfect area for breeding. While the migration cycle does not have a specific starting or ending point, the calving season in the southern plains is widely regarded as the first phase of the Wildebeest Migration. It is a stage of new beginnings – beginning of a new generation of Wildebeests and a new cycle of life, as well as the beginning of the first journey for Wildebeest calves. The volcanic soils from the Ngorongoro Highlands also provides the mothers and babies with enough calcium especially during this very critical time in their life cycle.

At least 10% of the babies are born before February and another 10% are born after February. 80% of the babies are born within a span of three weeks in February.

By the end of the calving season, nearly half a million calves will have been born. The lush green plains turn into a wildebeest nursery and the bleating of the new calves fills the atmosphere. This is a great season to see huge herds of Wildebeests and other herbivores grazing together. It is not uncommon to witness the birthing process during this season. The sight of mothers licking their newborns and witnessing the newborns learning to stand on their wobbly legs is quite a sight to behold. The newborn calves are learning to take their first steps – with each stumble and fall, they become better. And just within a few minutes, they are jumping and running all over in excitement. Their mothers will always be on the lookout for predators that may take an advantage of the unskilled new-born calves.

Mass Trekking to the North

As the dry season sets in at the end of April or the beginning of the month of May, the grass gets scanty and watering holes start drying; the herds are slowly influenced to trek towards the Central Serengeti, trekking the areas around the Moru Kopjes and Seronera region while others disperse to the northwestern region via the Serengeti Western Corridor and Grumeti Game Reserve.

The young calves have to quickly learn how to keep up with the rest of the herds and being vigilant on the predators.

It is this phase that the migratory beats can also be observed moving in extraordinarily large herds, across the plains and the wooded – grasslands of this larger Serengeti – Maasai Mara Ecosystem.

 River Crossings

As they embark on their journey north, they have to cross rivers in order to reach the greener pastures of the Maasai Mara Reserve in Kenya. The first river they have to navigate is the Grumeti River on the Western Corridor of the Serengeti National Park. And they have to wade their way through crocodile-infested waters. After braving the river crossing, they continue on their journey north until they arrive at their next major obstacle, the ranging Mara River. At this point, the huge herds of Wildebeests and Zebras converge near the river banks. They are nervous, but they have to gather the courage to navigate the strong currents and evade falling into the jaws of the hungry crocodiles underneath the deep waters.

Driven by desire to survive and to arrive at the lush greener pastures of the Mara, these grazers start to make their way towards the steep river banks. As soon as the first Wildebeest jumps into the river, the rest start streaming into the water. All this time Crocodiles are calmly lying beneath the water, waiting on a chance to prey on the Wildebeests and Zebras. The crossing can continually go on for a few minutes or hours depending on how dangerously these migratory animals perceive the crossing to be, at that specific point in time.

At times, the herds can stay around the banks for hours, sometimes even days, before crossing. From time to time, the herds can temporarily stop the crossing as they survey the Crocodiles’ movements and sometimes they can abandon the entire crossing or even move to another crossing point. The entire Mara River crossing takes anywhere from a few days to weeks for Wildebeests to cross on to the other side.

Along the Tanzanian side, there are established “14 – Great Migration Crossing Points”. These crossing points may vary over time depending on the choices of the animals for their safety and better accessibility. We will therefore keep updating our database as new data come up. Here below please find the “14 – Points for animal crossing

Serengeti Migration mara Crossing

The Great Wildebest Migration: Mara River Crossing Map

Migration in the Northern Serengeti

Between the mid – August and October, the Great Migration is in the northern parts of the Serengeti. Due the rains in these areas this time, the grass is greener and provides animals with better life up here. Some herds make to the other side of Mara River and get into Maasai Mara Reserve as well as the surrounding private wildlife conservancies on that side

During this time, the Great Migration can be viewed from either side of the two countries and the river crossing can happen at any time and day within the three months of it being up in the north. Some herds may bounce back and forth along the Mara River during this time, depending on the distribution and amount of in the area.

 Southward Migration/ Return to Serengeti

 As September approaches, the grass becomes scarce and Wildebeests and Zebras start making their way back to Tanzania. They have to face the Mara River once more. Mega herds start arriving on eastern plains before migrating to the southern plains of Serengeti for the calving season.

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