By Peter Felix
For many people, the first image of Africa that springs to mind is that of a huge crowd of wildebeest, shuffling nervously on the bank about the plunge into one of the rivers of the Northern Serengeti or Masai Mara to attempt a crossing fraught with danger. Seeing such scenes is on many people’s bucket list for Africa and there is no doubt it is an extraordinary sight and will give you memories that will last forever. However, we always stress to clients that seeing such scenes, which usually take place in July or August, are not the be all and end all of seeing the migration. It is a truly year round phenomenon, with each part of the year taking the herds to new areas in search of fresh grasses and each area has it’s own unique attractions.
Whilst the movement of the wildebeest is relatively regular, it is always worth remembering that their location is dictated by the presence of fresh grasses and their movements are not the same every year. Rains coming early or late can affect where they graze and they often double back in certain areas, especially in July and August around the famed river crossings. However, broadly speaking, if you base your trip on the following guide, you will have an excellent chance of seeing the herds. We have also recommended some accommodation options for each region, as well as our experiences and thoughts as to why each area is worth a visit when the herds are there.
We would like to share with you our experiences of enjoying the migration – at different times of year – that we have enjoyed on our travels. It truly is a majestic sight to behold whichever time of year you see it and our specialists are here to guide you as you decide when and where you should go to maximise your migration experience.
Between July and October the vast herds can be found grazing the endless plains of the Northern Serengeti (Tanzania) and Masai Mara (Kenya) where they also attempt the famed river crossings. It is quite an arresting sight, leaving the relative peace and tranquillity of your camp or lodge and suddenly happening upon these huge herds of animals, apparently happy doing very little except standing around and grazing. However, there is always the sense something is about to happen and when they start to move en-masse, this is a good indication that you will get to see a river crossing. As the herds mass upon the banks, the anticipation heightens. They can often stand there for several hours, sometimes longer, before the more courageous decide to take the plunge down the bank and into the waters. As the wildebeest and zebra pour down the banks and through the water, the crocodiles – who have been waiting patiently strike – take down the weaker animals as they cross. Whilst this can be shocking to see, it is a reminder that in nature everyone must be fed and the tussle between crocodile and struggling wildebeest is one that lives long in the memory, especially when the more cunning wildebeest escape to re-join their herds. An evening in camp chatting about your experience with fellow guests is a wonderful experience, especially when you know the wildebeest and zebra are massed out there in the darkness for you to see again tomorrow.
As the herds move south towards the central region of the Serengeti between November and March, the short rainy season arrives, bringing fresh, lush grasses and, come February, the herds give birth to their young, swelling the herds in size considerably. Whilst the herds have left behind the threat of the crocodiles on the river crossings, the danger has not passed as the Central Serengeti is home to large numbers of permanent predators, including a large lion population and plenty of cheetah. The birth of their young makes the wildebeest even more vulnerable at this time of year as they protect their calves whilst still having to move on regularly in search of new, fresh grasses. This is a particularly good time of year for photographers to see the migration and some superb shots of lions taking down an isolated wildebeest have been captured over the years, reminding us of the brutality of nature.
Following the migration
Between April and June the herds start to move back to the north, heading up through the western corridor and into the Grumeti region of the Serengeti, where the crossing of the Grumeti River is attempted. Whilst this is an easier prospect for the herds and there are fewer crocodiles, it is no less a spectacular a sight for those lucky enough to witness it. The long rainy season tends to set in around April and May, meaning there are fewer lodges open in this region. However those who do wish to travel then will be afforded almost free run of the accommodation and still enjoy some fantastic sightings of the wildebeest, as well as the predators that call the region home. The rains mean that the grasses stay lush for a longer period so the herds tend to move slower at this time of year, and it is probably the easiest time to predict their movements.
Whenever you choose to go, seeing the Great Migration is a truly magical experience and one not forgotten in a hurry. Whether you are enjoying one of the permanent lodges or camps, or taking advantage of the flexibility of a mobile camp (we think these are great – they offer a truly authentic safari experience) you will be able to enjoy superb accommodation, great food and, most importantly, excellent guiding that will really heighten your enjoyment of the experience.
Contact one of our experts for more information and to plan your Great Migration itinerary by calling 020 7843 3500 or filling out an enquiry form. You can also look at our dedicated migration map.