| Vast herds of more than a million wildebeest and a few hundred thousand zebras
live on the savannas on the border between Tanzania and Kenya. These herds move
seasonally from pastureland to pastureland, and their migratory habits have given
them the name "the great migration" or just "the migration".
More about the migration
Most of us
have seen the migration on television herds of migrating wildebeest or
zebras crossing rivers, where hungry crocodiles are waiting. But you can also
see it live on a safari in Kenya or Tanzania. It's a good show. So travel companies
of course use the migration as an attraction when marketing their safari tours.
Now, if you decide to go there, will you see the migration?
| Where to go |
First, you won't see the migration
unless you go to the area that these huge herds normally occupy. You have to go
to Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya or Serengeti
National Park in Tanzania. There's no point going elsewhere, as the migration
never goes there.
When to go thumb rule
The herds migrate
not only between pastures, but also between the two parks named above. To see
the migration, you have to visit one of them at the appropriate time of year.
The thumb rule is:
Go to A) Masai Mara in Kenya from August to October, or
B) Serengeti in Tanzania from December to June.
Safari guide Henrik Hult
on the migration
Now remember, that's a thumb rule, and it's not that simple
in practice. The herds migrate to find good grazing and fresh water, not because
the calendar tells them to. What really controls where the migration goes, and
when, is the local rainfall, which makes fresh grass grow and fills water holes
and seasonal rivers.
The Masai Mara and Serengeti region has two rainy seasons
and two dry seasons every year. This means a fairly regular annual rainfall pattern,
which results in a fairly regular migration pattern. This makes the thumb rule
above possible. But it's not an absolute rule. The onset and duration of the rainy
seasons and the amounts of rain aren't consistent from one year to another, and
the local weather may vary, just like it does in other parts of the world, bringing
more or less rain than usual during a particular season. Such variations may change
the migratory paths of the migration, and makes it hard to predict the whereabouts
of the migration in advance.
Recent deviations from the thumb rule
If you want to book your safari at least a couple of months before going,
there won't be any 100% reliable information available telling you where to go
to see the migration. So you have to rely on the thumb rule, and accept that you
may not see the migration, should it deviate from its normal pattern.
It has done so a number of times during the 2000's, including the two last fall
seasons. In 2008, the herds left Masai Mara in Kenya very early and had reached
central Serengeti in Tanzania already in the middle of October. In 2009, good
herds were still in the Serengeti region during September and October. Other herds
didn't fail to reach Masai Mara, but the total number of animals getting there
wasn't as good as during a normal thumb rule year.
This has been typical
for the 2000's when the migration has deviated from the thumb rule, it
has done so by arriving late to Masai Mara, by leaving Masai Mara early, or by
getting to Masai Mara in reduced numbers. When this has happened, the high season
in Masai Mara hasn't been as good, in terms of animal numbers, as it should, while
Serengeti has had a prolonged high season.
Serengeti is a safer bet
The opposite hasn't happened during these years, i.e. Serengeti hasn't lost
any of its migration seasons to Masai Mara. Judging from this, booking a tour
to Serengeti according to the thumb rule should be a safer bet than a tour to
Masai Mara, as the presence of the migration is less predictable in the latter
Serengeti also has a longer normal migration season than Masai Mara,
making it the park where the migration spends most of its time. Serengeti's disadvantage
is its size it's much larger than Masai Mara, and huge parts of it have
no or few roads and can't be accessed. If the migration goes there, you can't
see it because you can't go there.
Making sure you see the migration
If seeing the migration during your safari is a very high priority to you,
you can't book your tour well in advance. Instead, you should be prepared to travel
to Masai Mara at any time during August to October, or to Serengeti at any time
during December to March. Keep yourself updated (on the web or by communicating
with local tour operators) on the whereabouts of the migration, and go as soon
as the migration has reached and established itself in the park.
safari-goers, though, seeing the migration or not doesn't make the safari a good
or a bad one. The migration is a very nice bonus to seeing all the other animals,
which is, however, the true main experience of an East African safari.