There are many incredible wildlife migrations, but none are more famous than the amazing great African migration. Today’s article will dive into everything you need to know about this particular migration, as well as how and when you can see it happening for yourself…
What do we mean by migration?
Migration in this context refers to the phenomenon of animals leaving their home to head to somewhere new for a period of time (and this typically happens annually) for a particular reason – be that better temperatures, easier food sources, a need for water, mating purposes and so on. There are plenty of animals who migrate, from butterflies to elephants and everything in between, both on land and underwater.
It is a fascinating process, and also allows tourists to see animals in places they might not usually be able to see them – and as long as you do so safely and respectfully, accompanied by somebody who knows what they’re doing and where to go, this can be an amazing and eye-opening experience!
What is the great African migration?
One of the most famous migrations across the globe is the great African migration. This takes place across East Africa, and it is when thousands of wildebeest, zebras, gazelles, antelopes and other African safari animals from the beautiful Serengeti across to the Masai Mara in search of food and water. It is not the same as many other migrations in that it isn’t one singular ‘annual’ event – rather, it is a circular and continuous movement which just keeps on going. The whole process takes an entire year, and then starts again. There are plenty of places to see the great African migration for yourself, and it really is magical to witness.
As mentioned, the animals make this trek because they need to find water and food – they leave the Serengeti in the dry season, in June. By the time the great African migration makes it back to the Serengeti, it is the turning point of a new year and new calving season.
The great African migration: a timeline
Here is how the great African migration takes place month on month throughout each year…
At this point in the year, the animals of the great African migration will be finishing their southward trek back along the eastern edge of the Serengeti, heading into an area known as the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. They will raise their newborn calves here, too, who are born at a rate of around 8000 per day.
As we head into February, the herds will move slightly to spread themselves across the lower northern slopes of the Ngorongoro Crater highlands as well as the Olduvai Gorge.
The third month of the year sees the herd stay where they are and continue to raise their young while protecting them from the various predators in the area. Tip: this is the best time of year to see the drama of both calving and predatory big cats.
In April, the animals begin to move further into central Serengeti in search of fresh grass. They will keep travelling northwest at a fairly leisurely pace.
As we enter the fifth month of the year, the wildebeest and the rest of the great African migration animals continue with this northwestern trek. You can see lines upon lines of wildebeest in the Moru Kopjes area at this point in the year. It is also the start of mating season, so male wildebeest are in battle with each other… Tip: this is another great time of year to witness the great African migration!
By June, the animals have reached the Western Serengeti area and the southern banks of the Grumeti River. It is now that the dry season starts, and they start the arduous trek away from here; first, however, they must cross the Grumeti River and its crocodile-infested waters.
Now, the animals are heading towards one of the toughest barriers they’ll face during the great African migration: the Mara River. This is located in the north of the Serengeti, and if you’ve seen *any* footage of the migration process at all then it will likely have included the dangerous dance across this river. Animals cross the river every single day during this time of year. Tip: this is arguably the best time and place to book a safari, because this is truly one of nature’s miracles.
By now most of the herds who are going to do so have managed to cross the Mara River, and the animals are spread across the north of the Masai Mara region. Here they graze and live and hydrate while slowly moving eastward.
This month is similar to August, with the herds continuing eastward throughout the area in relative peace.
The animals wait for the East African short rains at the end of the month, continuing on their journey.
Now the rains have ended, the animals start moving away from Kenya on their return journey to the Serengeti. Tip: November is a great month for viewing the great African migration on safari in the Namiri Plains area because you’ll get to see cheetahs too.
By now, the animals are spread across the eastern and southern reaches of the Serengeti, awaiting the lush rainy season and the new calving season.
The main animal involved in the great African migration is the wildebeest. These interesting animals make up a huge portion of the herds you’ll see on migration safaris, so let’s look a bit more at what makes them so special…
There are two species of wildebeest
You can find two different species of wildebeest across the globe: there is the blue wildebeest, found in southern and eastern Africa, as well as the black wildebeest which is only found in South Africa.
They live up to 20 years of age
In the wild, wildebeest live to be up to 20 years old roughly. There are many dangers, especially during the great African migration, like predators and river crossings – and of course, poachers are always an issue.
Both genders have horns
With other animals, it is often only the male of the species that has horns. However, when it comes to wildebeest, the males AND females have horns. You can differentiate them because the males’ horns are much bigger and thicker!
They can walk from birth
There is no hanging around for these calves; baby wildebeest can walk as soon as they are born and within just a few days you’ll see them running with the herd. That is why seeing the great African migration during calving season is so spectacular. Gestation time for wildebeest is around 8.5 months.
Wildebeest are herbivores
Being quite big, you might think wildebeest are natural predators. This isn’t true, however – they are herbivores, grazing on grass and plant life. Wildebeest grow to be around 1.2 metres long, and weigh up to around 280kg when fully grown. They themselves are hunted by lions, hyenas, cheetahs and hunting dogs.
How to see the great African migration for yourself
If you are interested in seeing the great African migration for yourself, there are many times and places where this is possible. Safaris are an incredible type of holiday, and you will come away with unforgettable memories which truly blow your mind. Nature is cruel at times, beautiful at others, and fascinating always – so it is no surprise that there are plenty of opportunities to experience it.
In the timeline above you can see where I have noted some of the best times of year to witness the great African migration. Of course, depending on the time of year you choose to experience it, you will have a range of places to choose from in terms of *where* you witness this incredible feat of nature.
If you’re choosing the southern part of the Serengeti for your safari, then March is the best time of year to go. There are various camps located here, and various companies you can book with – as tends to be the case for all areas along the great African migration route.
Mwiba Lodge, for example, is an exclusive lodge within the Mwiba Wildlife Reserve; there are 33 freshwater springs nearby, a beautiful spread of lush flora and fauna, and the resort has WiFi, a swimming pool, a hot tub and more. This is one of the more luxurious offerings in the area for sure. It can house up to 24 guests, and in March you’ll be able to go out and see the calving season for yourself.
This beautiful part of Serengeti is southwest of the central area; it is actually home to the stunning black rhinos, but it will also give you access to the great African migration. This is where the wildebeest will be during mating season in May, which is an incredible sight to behold on a safari trip.
Dunia Camp is a semi-permanent camp in a really serene area with a huge private veranda perfect for wildlife watching. There are 8 solar-powered tents, each with an en-suite bathroom, including a larger family tent. With gorgeous views and an array of traditional food on offer, this is the perfect place to witness the great African migration for yourself.
In July, the best place to experience the great African migration is over in Kenya in the Masai Mara National Reserve. This is where the incredibly dramatic river crossing takes place, so there is no wonder it’s such a popular time and place for nature lovers to experience the particular migration. As such, there are definitely quite a few camps to choose from…
Bateleur Camp is an intimate safari camp in the area, described as elegant and comprising two small camps of 9 tents each. There is a butler and housekeeper, copper baths, Chesterfield sofas and views like you won’t believe. You can see plenty of wildlife year round, but if you’re particularly interested in the great African migration then the summer is definitely your best bet. They also do night drives, giving you another perspective on this incredible sight.
Mara Bushtops is another camp to choose from; in its own private reserve, they have conservancy and access to a nearby cave. The camp is designed to blend it with its surroundings, which provides minimal disruption to the reserve, and there are 12 spacious luxury tents available. There is a spa, you can take a hot air balloon ride, and they offer night drives too.
Eastern Serengeti area
Back in the Serengeti, head to the eastern part in November to see the great African migration AND cheetahs. There are a few camps to choose from, and you’ll get to see the herds arriving back to the area.
Namiri Plains has been recently refurbished and upgraded – they do conservation work too, especially for big cats in the area. There are 10 en-suite tents, a private spa, a pool, solar power and hammocks. The views are simply breathtaking, and you can explore on foot or by air. They even offer a full English breakfast!
The Great African Migration- Key facts
Here are some key facts about the annual migration of wildlife in Africa:
- The annual migration of wildlife in Africa is one of the largest and most spectacular natural events in the world, involving millions of animals.
- The migration is primarily made up of wildebeest, but also includes zebras, gazelles, and other herbivores.
- The migration takes place between Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park and Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve, covering a distance of around 1,800 miles.
- The migration is driven by a search for food and water, with the animals following the seasonal rains and vegetation growth.
- The migration is a dangerous journey, with many animals falling prey to predators such as lions, hyenas, and crocodiles.
- The migration is also impacted by human activity, including habitat loss, poaching, and climate change.
- The best time to witness the migration is typically between July and October, when the animals cross the Mara River and move into the Masai Mara.
- The migration is an important source of tourism in Tanzania and Kenya, bringing in millions of dollars in revenue each year.
- The annual migration is an iconic symbol of Africa’s natural beauty and biodiversity, and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Conservation efforts are underway to protect the migration and the wildlife that depend on it, including measures to combat poaching, reduce human-wildlife conflict, and promote sustainable tourism.
FAQs about Great African Migration
Lets finish off this article by answering some of the most common questions on this topic.
What animals participate in the annual migration of wildlife in Africa?
The migration primarily consists of wildebeest, but also includes zebras, gazelles, and other herbivores.
What is the reason behind the annual migration of wildlife in Africa?
The migration is driven by a search for food and water, with the animals following the seasonal rains and vegetation growth.
When is the best time to witness the annual migration of wildlife in Africa?
The best time to witness the migration is typically between July and October, when the animals cross the Mara River and move into the Masai Mara.
How do human activities impact the annual migration of wildlife in Africa?
Human activities such as habitat loss, poaching, and climate change can impact the migration and the wildlife that depend on it.
What is being done to protect the annual migration of wildlife in Africa?
Conservation efforts are underway to protect the migration and the wildlife that depend on it, including measures to combat poaching, reduce human-wildlife conflict, and promote sustainable tourism.
How long does the annual migration of wildlife in Africa last?
The migration typically lasts for several months, with the animals traveling from Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park to Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve and back again.
What dangers do the animals face during the annual migration of wildlife in Africa?
The animals face many dangers during the migration, including predators such as lions, hyenas, and crocodiles, as well as natural obstacles such as rivers and steep cliffs.
How do tourists typically observe the annual migration of wildlife in Africa?
Tourists can observe the migration through guided safaris, hot air balloon rides, and other organised tours. However, it’s important to use responsible tourism practices to minimise the impact on the wildlife.
How important is the annual migration of wildlife in Africa to the local economy?
The migration is an important source of tourism in Tanzania and Kenya, bringing in millions of dollars in revenue each year.
What is the cultural significance of the annual migration of wildlife in Africa?
The migration has cultural significance for the Maasai people of Tanzania and Kenya, who have traditionally coexisted with the wildlife and use the migration as a basis for their traditional pastoral way of life.
The Great African Migration- To Conclude
If you enjoyed learning about wildebeest and the great African migration, there are a few more blog posts linked below which you might also find interesting…