| All year round, huge herds of wildebeest (or gnus) and zebras keep moving from pasture
to pasture in two of East
Africa's best wildlife areas, Masai
Mara National Reserve in Kenya
National Park in Tanzania.
In search for good grazing and water, the herds repeat the same circular route year
This wildlife phenomenon, which may be seen by safari-goers visiting these parks,
is called 'the migration' or 'the great migration'.
|December to June:
|| The migration is in Serengeti.
(April and May are rainy months, not very good for safaris.)
|| The migration is on the move from Serengeti to Masai Mara.
|August to October:
|| The migration is in Masai Mara.
|| The migration is on the move from Masai Mara to Serengeti.
A million wildebeest
The herds number between 1 and 1.5 million wildebeest and a few hundred thousand zebras.
The herds vary in size from year to year, depending on rainfall and availability of
grazing, and sometimes also on disease.
Seasonal wildebeest and zebra migrations do occur also in other parts of East Africa,
although not involving near as many animals. Tarangire National
Park in Tanzania, for example, receives large numbers of these animals during the
dry season from June to October. Other species migrate, too, such as the gazelles in
the Serengeti-Masai Mara ecosystem, but not as far and as the wildebeest and zebras.
You may have seen nature documentaries where wildebeest and zebras in thousands cross
rivers, challenging currents and waiting crocodiles. These documentaries were shot in
Masai Mara or Serengeti, where the migration has to cross the Grumeti River and the
Mara River to reach the pastures it is heading for.
The documentaries are shot in areas where you can go, too. The migration usually crosses
the Grumeti River in the Western corridor in Serengeti during June, the Mara River in
Masai Mara during August to October, and the Grumeti River in northern Serengeti during
November to December. The timetable isn't fully predictable, though, as the movements
of the migration are determined by rainfall and the availability of grazing and drinking
water. If the normal seasonal pattern of rainfall is disrupted, the migration may not
behave as it usually does.
You also need some luck and timing to see river crossings, even when there are a lot
of wildebeest and zebras around. Crossings are not continuous, but rather intermittent
bursts, after herds have gathered on the riverbanks and hesitated for hours or even
days. Once they start to cross, they all want to get to the other side as quickly as
Not one single herd
The migration rarely appears as one single big herd, but is normally divided into many
smaller herds. These may be compact at times, but may also be quite scattered in the
landscape. Sometimes, it may be difficult to find the wildebeest and zebras at all,
as they may be moving through areas where there are few or no roads.
All in all, you can't book the migration. It is always on the move, and reacts to weather
and rainfall. The best you can do is going to an area where the migration usually is
seen during that time of the year, and then, if the herds are not present, be prepared
to improvise, for example by doing long day-tours to other parts of the parks. At worst,
you may see just a glimpse of the wildebeest and zebras. At best, you may see them in
hundreds of thousands.
Crocodiles that live in the rivers where the migrations passes each year benefit
a lot from this superabundance of food. These crocodiles are known to be big. Other
predators may also benefit from the turbulent river crossing, where it's possible to
find exhausted, injured or less observant prey.
Some prides or groups of lions follow the migration, to have a good supply of food all
year round. Stationary prides may only benefit from the herds during some months every
Hyaenas, cheetahs and leopards may also prey on the migrating herds, and during the
calving and foaling seasons in January and February, which the herds spend in southern
Serengeti, also jackals and large eagles may join in.
When to see the migration
If you want to see the migration, you should choose the time of year and the destination
(Serengeti or Masai Mara) accordingly. The map below shows where the migration is normally
staying throughout the year.
The map shows a general pattern, from which the herds may deviate because of rainfall,
availability of quality grass etc. It's not possible to predict the exact whereabouts
of the migration beforehand, for example when you book your safari. All you can say
is where it is usually found.
In August to October, the migration is usually in Masai Mara
in Kenya, and in December to June, it's usually in Serengeti
in Tanzania. In July and November, it's usually on the move between these parks, and
its whereabouts are even harder to predict.
The main factors that control the migration pattern are the onsets of the rainy seasons.
rains in April to May initiate the move from southern Serengeti towards Masai
Mara, while the short
rains in November initiate the move from Masai Mara to Serengeti.
More about where to go
More about safari seasons
Going at the "wrong" time of the year
If you go to Masai Mara or Serengeti during the "wrong" time of the year,
i.e. when the migration is normally not present in the park, you will probably not see
more than few straggling wildebeest and zebras, as the big herds will be elsewhere.
This doesn't mean that you will have a poor safari, it just means that you won't see
the migration. Both parks have a rich mammal wildlife, and most species don't migrate.