Stages of the Great Wildebeest Migration

The Great Wildebeest Migration is without doubt one of the planet’s most incredible wildlife spectacles. Each year around 1.5 million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of zebras migrate around the Serengeti National Park in search of pastures green. By following the rains, the herds must battle raging rivers and avoid lurking predators in order to complete this annual cycle.

Although nothing is certain in nature, below is a rough outline of the main points of the wildebeest migration and some of the best places to stay to witness this incredible phenomenon. Tanzania has been open for tourists for a number of months now, and with some great special offers as well as very few visitors, there hasn’t been a better time to visit the Serengeti.

Calving season

As the new year dawns, the majority of the wildebeest have started congregating on the Ndutu Plains in the South of the National Park. Some also spill over into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, but this is the time when the herds are concentrated in their greatest numbers.

As February begins, so does the birthing season. For a three-week period approximately eight thousand wildebeest calves are born every day giving rise to even more black dots on the endless plains. The abundance of ungulates of course attracts plenty of predators, from the lightning fast cheetahs to the sly hyena, it is a time of plenty for both prey and predator.

Migration camps such as Nomad’s Serengeti Safari Camp or Asilia’s Ubuntu provide the perfect opportunity to sit among these vast herds. With their camps moving up to three times a year, you can be sure of a front row seat to this awesome spectacle as well as beautiful luxury accommodation.

In limbo

After the births of the wildebeest calves, slowly the herds start to split up. Although the general direction is North, splinter herds form and the wildebeest are in limbo. Some of the herds head straight towards the Grumeti area in the West, whilst many of the wildebeest travel into and around the Seronera region of the park.

Even when split up, the herds still number in their thousands as they make their way through the centre of the Serengeti. April and May brings the long rainy season to Tanzania, but this also provides an excellent chance of some brilliant game viewing at lower prices.

Asilia’s Dunia is a wonderful camp at this time of year. Its location is perfect to catch the migrating wildebeest and explore the variety of habitats that is host to a large number of the big five. If you can, branching out to Namiri Plains is also very worthwhile to get some incredible big cat sightings.

The Grumeti

As May progresses into June, the herds are still in their splinter groups. Whilst some will head directly North from Seronera towards the Mara River, others arrive in the Grumeti region of the park. Here the famous Grumeti River meanders through beautiful riverine woodlands.

Although the Grumeti is certainly not on the same scale as the Mara River, there are some small river crossings that do occur and the Grumeti area is a beautiful place to explore.

June is without doubt the best time to visit here with Singita occupying their own private concession. Home to outstanding lodges like Sasakwa and Faru Faru, the level of hospitality, guiding and service is second to none. With their own private concession comes the freedom to off-road, walk and night-drive without any restrictions as well as a very limited number of vehicles which allows a truly immersive and personal experience. Even when the migration isn’t in this area, combining a Singita lodge with another camp somewhere else in the Serengeti for the migration makes for the perfect all-round Serengeti experience.

Mara River crossings

From early July through to early November, the Mara River is the best place to see the wildebeest migration. Located in the Kogatende region in the North of the Serengeti, the herds start arriving here from the middle of June onwards and this is where the second largest congregation occurs.

Contrary to popular belief, the River is not the border between Tanzania and Kenya and only about a quarter of the wildebeest enter the Masai Mara. Most of the herds tend to stay in the Serengeti National Park, but cross over the river multiple times in search of the best grazing. The scenes that unfold here are worthy of any wildlife documentary, with huge crocodiles lurking in the shallows as well as lions and leopards waiting in ambush on the banks, the wildebeest really are against the odds. Thousands fall victim to the predators as well as the current, but many make it through the hardship and are rewarded with lush green grass on which to graze upon.

Whilst the migration camps follow the wildebeest up to the Kogatende region, if you want to have an extra luxurious experience then staying at one of the permanent lodges should certainly be considered. Asilia’s Sayari as well as Nomad’s Lamai provide the best permanent lodging in the North and with beautiful views from all across the camps, you can be sure of a safari that is not only filled with extraordinary wildlife sightings, but also some of the best accommodation in Tanzania.

The journey south

After the adrenaline fuelled river crossings, the wildebeest start their journey South again. From the start of November onward, the wildebeest head back towards the Ndutu Plains, completing their annual cycle. Some of the herds splinter into the central regions again, some stray East and some head directly South. Again they are in limbo, but will all congregate on the Southern plains by the end of the year.

Choosing where to stay during November can be tricky as it is a month of transition for the migration. At the start of the month, you could be lucky and witness the last few river crossings in the North, or you could head to &Beyond’s Klein’s Camp in the East and enjoy a private concession which sees the wildebeest pass through throughout the month. No matter where you choose to stay though, the resident game around the lodges in the Serengeti is always fantastic.

Marc Harris is Managing Director of Tanzania Odyssey. Tanzania Odyssey is a leading tour operator that has specialised in Tanzania since 1998.

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