The greatest wildlife show on earth — the Great Wildebeest Migration in the plains of East Africa is one of the world’s most thrilling, intriguing and spectacular displays of wildlife behaviour. As such, our travellers place great timing importance on having the best front row seats to see the event.
Masai Mara is the most noted location of the wildebeest migration due to its famed Mara River crossings, and this has led to some misunderstandings about the migration itself.
The migration is an ongoing movement of animals that takes place throughout the year. It occurs within an area that is known as the “Serengeti ecosystem.” The 40,000-square mile area is defined by Masai Mara National Reserve in the north and, in the south, Ndutu, Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Maswa Game Reserve in Tanzania. The central, eastern and western areas include Grumeti Reserve, Loliondo, the official Serengeti National Park including part of the southern expanse of Kusini and other protected areas.
The great migration is not a singular, isolated event. Instead, the phrase describes the constant movement of over 1.5 million wildebeests and hundreds of thousands of zebras, as well as elands and gazelles.
As with other wildlife, the purpose of the movement is the search for pasture and water. When supplies of these vital resources are depleted in one area, the animals move to another area where water, grasses and other food sources are plentiful.
The Great Migration Drama
Step into a real-world nature documentary of African Safaris. As you traverse the vast landscape of Masai Mara National Reserve from July to October, your Hitch A Hike Adventures guide excitedly points to a dust cloud billowing on the horizon. Your gaze stays fixated as your anticipation builds.
What magnificent scene awaits? As your safari vehicle draws near the source of the aerial disturbance, you feel a slight trembling on the ground. Suddenly, the immense shapes of wildebeests begin to emerge from the dust. A chaotic mix of hoofs, grey-black fur, white beards, tails and short manes thunder across the plains. As you pass the herd, flashes of black and white signify the presence of zebras. Following the direction of their heading, you see a seemingly endless number of the same creatures grazing upon shades of emerald-green grasses. As your guide cautiously approaches the animals, a distinctive landmark reveals itself just beyond a hill crest – the Mara River.
Your guide takes you to an exceptional vantage point where the Mara River lies just a short distance away. The energy in the air is palpable. Dozens of wildebeests stand along a ledge just above the river, stomping and grunting in anticipation. As you ponder their hesitation, you look to the river itself.
The massive volume of water rushes past to create a treacherous challenge for even the strongest of the wildebeests. You also notice several stealthy animals – ferocious crocodiles trolling the water, awaiting the onrush of their prey. As the wildebeests become more restless, you know that the time is growing closer. Suddenly, without any warning, the first gnu stumbles down the ledge, its body twisting and contorting. With a final desperate jump, it lands in the muddied water of the Mara River. With eyes wide from panic, the animal begins its solo journey across the river. Thousands of more wildebeests follow in an onslaught of movement, transforming the swirling river into a frenzy of splashing water, drowning calves and battling prey and ferocious predators like crocodiles.
The river fills with carcasses of the hundreds that were too weak or slow to make the crossing, and gigantic vultures begin to feed on the bodies at the banks. Joy fills your heart, though, as you see a mother help her exhausted calf climb the slippery slope on the other side of the river. Just as quickly as the crossing began, the wildebeest herd disappears into the distance on their never-ending journey for Kenya’ richest grazing grounds.
Best Time To See The Great Migration
Kenya and Tanzania don’t have the traditional Western four seasons of spring, summer, fall, and winter. Instead, the seasons are mostly divided into a wet and dry season, with mini-wet and dry seasons happening in between. June to September is the dry season. Temperatures are warm and rain is infrequent according to GoAway. The low rains begin in late October followed by the mini-dry season, while the true wet season is April through May.
The best time to see the Great Migration is during the dry season, between July and early October. It’s warm, the weather is stable, and animals are abundant. The sparse vegetation and dried-up waterways force the animals to head up north to find food and drink.
If you visit in November or December, you’ll still see wildebeest and zebra, but the movements will not be as pronounced as during July and August. Just be sure to avoid April and May if you’re hoping to catch the Migration. The animals haven’t left the southwest yet and the torrential rains flood the Serengeti and make travel difficult.