The great Serengeti – Masai Mara wildebeest migration is the movement of vast numbers of the Serengeti’s wildebeest, accompanied by large numbers of zebra, and smaller numbers of Grant’s gazelle, Thompson’s gazelle, eland and impala. These move in an annual pattern which is fairly predictable and they influence the number of prey who tend to be near/ follow these animals as their food. They migrating throughout the year, constantly seeking fresh grazing and, it’s now thought, better quality water. The precise timing of the Serengeti wildebeest migration is entirely dependent upon the rainfall patterns each year – here we explain how the broad pattern works.
Serengeti wildebeest migration
The short rains begin around early November. A little after this, in late November and December, the herds of the wildebeest migration arrive on the short-grass plains of the Serengeti. These are south and east of Seronera, around Ndutu and include the north of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Dispersed across these plains, wildebeest and zebra are everywhere – feeding on the fresh, nutritious grasses. They stay here through January, February and March, with most wildebeest calves born in a short window around February. Gradually they spread west across these plains, then around April they start their great migration north.
By May the Serengeti’s wildebeest all seem to be moving north, migrating to seek fresh grazing and water. The area around Moru Kopjes and west of Seronera is then hectic with a series of moving columns, often containing hundreds of thousands of animals – joined by many zebra, and a scattering of Thompson’s and Grant’s gazelles.
Some of the migration then head due north of Seronera, but most are usually further west. Around June the wildebeest migration is often halted on the south side of the Grumeti River, which has some channels which block or slow their migration north. The wildebeest then congregate there, in the Western Corridor, often building up to a high density before crossing the river. The river here is normally a series of pools and channels, but it’s not continuous – and so whilst they always represent an annual feast for the Grumeti River’s large crocodiles, these aren’t usually quite as spectacular as the crossings of the Mara River, further north.
The wildebeest migration continues moving northwards during June, often spreading out across a broad front: some heading through Grumeti Reserve and Ikorongo, others north through the heart of the Serengeti National Park.
June sees the herds spread out across the northern Serengeti, where the Mara River provides the migration with its most serious obstacle. This river gushes through the northern Serengeti from Kenya’s adjacent Maasai Mara Game Reserve. Watching the frantic herds of the wildebeest migration crossing the Mara River can be very spectacular; there are often scenes of great panic and confusion. It’s common to see herds cross the Mara River north on one day, and then back south a few days later.
Masai Mara wildebeest migration
Every year, at some point between late-June , the wildebeest start to arrive in search of pasture from the dry plains of the Serengeti in Tanzania. They pour into the reserve and stream across the rivers, where crocodiles and other predators lurk in waiting.
This movement, the Great Migration – now billed as one of the natural wonders of the world – is in reality one phase in a continual cycle of nomadic pasture-seeking, mating, calving and more pasture-seeking, that sees the majority of the herds ever on the move, according to the onset of the seasonal rains, the rise and fall of the river waters and the growth of the rich oat grass and other pastures.
Although wildebeest often form lines while moving towards the scent of better grazing, and tend to follow each other’s footprints and paths, there is no specific migration ‘route’. Huge numbers cross the Mara River in Tanzania and head north into the western part of the Maasai Mara National Reserve (the Mara Triangle), from where they may then turn right and cross back over the Mara into the Musiara or Sekenani sectors of the reserve. Others, in their hundreds of thousands, head north into the Maasai Mara’s Sekenani sector across the shallow Sand River, and then turn left to cross the Mara or Talek rivers. The herds swarm far into the north where they spread out across the conservancies and they cross and re-cross the rivers, drawn by fresh pasture and driven by herd instinct and the threat of predators, especially to young and weaker animals.
The migration in Kenya lasts from July to October and they start moving down to serengeti by November.