The Great Migration

wildbeest migration in east africa

The Great Migration of animals in East Africa features the movement of millions of wildebeests, Burchell’s zebras, antelopes and other herd species from Serengeti national park in Tanzania to Maasai Mara national park in Kenya. The animals keep switching these parks throughout the year with two major objectives: searching for water and fresh grazing lands.

As pasture and water dry up in the Serengeti, animals start moving northwards towards Maasai Mara encouraged by the smell of rain and sounds of thunder in this part of the reserve. They will do the same and return to the Serengeti once the dry season starts to bite in Maasai Mara and their movement circle keeps on like this.

A challenging journey

The movement of these large herds does not run smoothly as they are attacked by predators like lions, cheetahs, hyenas and crocodiles along the way. One of the most dangerous points for the animals to cross are the rivers where they are targeted by crocs as they move through the waters and when they are struggling to climb the steep and slippery cliffs at the banks. According to reports, over 250,000 wildebeests and 30,000 zebras perish each year while on this trek and majority of these are the young ones. Sometimes mother wildebeests are seen running continuously while leaving behind their young ones when being chased by predators.

How long is the journey?

The Great Migration is a continuous year-long journey of animals inter-switching habitats of Serengeti and Maasai Mara in search for water and fresh pasture. In total, this journey spans up to 1,200 miles and it involves dreadful experiences along the way like the dramatic river crossings and rare events like mating rituals and calving.

When and where to see the Great Migration?

The massive movement of the animals in majorly influenced by rainfall patterns along their routes though according to safari experts, these animals follow a similar path which begins in Tanzania’s Serengeti and ends in Maasai Mara in Kenya.

Between December and March, animals are found in Serengeti where wildebeests tend to congregate and give birth to around 500,000 calves in February. This is due to rich fertile volcanic soils in the south which produce grass rich in potassium, calcium and phosphorus that give calves the richest milk. The short grass of Serengeti also assures these animals of less predators which usually lurk in taller grass.

As the rain season of April to May starts, animals begin to move northwards grazing hungrily across the central and western Serengeti. As the food supply begins to vanish in April and the Serengeti dries up, animals begin to follow the Grumeti River west.

In June and July, animals are grazing through the Serengeti western corridor as they continue their way to Maasai Mara northwards. The waters of the Grumeti River are low by June which exposes the animals to the crocodile-infested pools. By July, animals have approached the northern reaches of Tanzania and moving towards the Kenyan border.

By August, majority of the animals have entered Maasai Mara and this is perhaps the best time to witness the movement as animals cross the Mara and Talek rivers. It is in these waters where animals have to battle it out with the hungry crocs which have been waiting for over four months.

The herds start leaving Maasai Mara back to Serengeti from October through November as the rain season starts in Tanzania. The grasslands in Maasai Mara start drying up by early October and this when animals start their return journey to Serengeti.