Tanzania is a place where nature is at its wildest. It is surrounded by three great lakes of Africa – Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika and Lake Malawi. Vast swathes of Savanah grasslands decorate Tanzania’s hinterlands and the real beauty of the country shines through its amazing biodiversity and wildlife.
Wildebeest Migration in Serengeti is one of the nature’s biggest spectacles in Africa!
When planning a migration safari to Serengeti, it is highly important to understand the best place to be based at any point of time during Serengeti safari. The Wildebeest and Zebra basically move in a huge anti-clockwise direction. While June is a good time to around the Grumeti River, July/August/September/ sometimes even October is better to be in the Masai Mara.
What is Wildebeest Migration?
The Great Migration is an annual migration of wildebeest from the Ndutu region of the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania to the Masai Mara in southern Kenya.
The recent rains leave the stunning caldera reserve with an abundance of grass for zebra and wildebeest to feast upon, and it is at this time of year that the wildebeest calving season begins (December-March) it is also an opportune time for predators such as lions, cheetahs, leopards, and even hyenas to pick off weak and confused calves.
When the rains end in April/May, the zebra begin the process of heading north towards the Masai Mara. Where the zebra go, the wildebeest follow.
The vast herd crosses the Grumeti River in June/July and the Mara River between August and November, and it is at this time that some of the most spectacular photographs and video footage can be captured. The swollen rivers sweep away members of the herd, predators harry the stragglers, and the opportunistic Nile crocodiles have a feast as animals venture into the water seeking to cross. It is a bloody, dazzling display of the food chain at work.
Once the crossings are complete, the herd settles in the Masai Mara in southern Kenya. After remaining in the more fertile Masai Mara for the duration of the dry season, the migration heads south again in preparation for the calving season in the New Year.
The Migration Pattern
The exact timing of the Great Wildebeest Migration is completely dependent upon rainfall patterns, making it a difficult thing to predict with any certainty. A particularly heavy or light rainfall might completely alter the movement of the massive herd, so it is best to get daily updates leading in to your trip.
That being said, there is a rough calendar that can usually be relied upon.
January to March
Life begins for a huge number of animals in the Ndutu region of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. In the space of a few short weeks, the calving season sees half a million young wildebeest brought into the world. This is due to the rainy season combining with the fertile volcanic soil of the region to create a lush carpet of short grass rich in essential vitamins.
It is here that the vast herd begins to take shape, and it is here that the predators begin their yearlong assault upon the herd. With so many young and weak calves stumbling around, it becomes easy for the lions, leopards, and cheetahs to pick off a tasty morsel.
April to May
With the wet season ending in the south of the Serengeti, it is time for the herd to begin moving north. At this stage it numbers approximately 1.7 million wildebeest, 470,000 species of antelope, and 250,000 zebras, and has attracted a motley collection of predators who will dog its steps for the entirety of its journey.
The great movement usually passes through the Seronera region of the Serengeti National park at this stage, and with so many young and inexperienced members of the herd, the predators have a field day.
June to July
The herd encounters its first major obstacle at this point. As Lake Victoria experiences its own miniature wet season, the herd shifts direction and treks towards Africa’s largest freshwater lake in search of sustenance.
The only thing standing between them? The Grumeti River.
Some of the most spectacular images of the predator-prey relationship are captured in and around the river, with both the big cats and the Nile crocodiles seizing upon this opportunity to strike at the increasingly desperate members of the herd. The Grumeti is home to the largest Nile crocodile population in the region, and these opportunistic predators make the most of things.
Once they’ve successfully navigated the river’s strong currents and predator population, the herd can spend some time recovering and replenishing on the Musabi and Masira grass plains until it becomes time to move on again.
August to November
During this period, the herd continues its movement north towards the Maasai Mara National Park in Kenya. There is no tight schedule that these animals follow, and so tracking the herd’s movements becomes a day to day prospect as the meander slowly but inexorably towards the next big obstacle in their path: the Mara River.
The Mara River poses another deadly barrier for the herd, who must again brave swollen waters and the opportunistic predators if they are to find relatively safety on the far side. Photographers and documentarians from around the world gather to witness the death-defying crossing, but the surrounding landscapes are every bit as memorable as the life and death struggle taking place at the Kogatende crossing.
After having spent some time in the greener lands of the Masai Mara after their crossing, the great herd begins the process of returning to the calving area in the southern Serengeti. The rivers must be crossed again and the way is long, but the herd at this point is better prepared for the journey after nearly a year of growth for the calves strong enough to have survived the journey so far.
By either year’s end or early in the New Year, the herd has returned to Ndutu in time to begin the whole process again.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area is in northern Tanzania. It’s home to the vast, volcanic Ngorongoro Crater and “big 5” game (elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino). Huge herds of wildebeests and zebras traverse its plains during their annual migration. Livestock belonging to the semi-nomadic Maasai tribe graze alongside wild animals. Hominin fossils found in the Olduvai Gorge date back millions of years.
Tarangire National Park is the sixth largest national park in Tanzania, it is located in Manyara Region. The name of the park originates from the Tarangire River that crosses the park. It is most famous for its elephant migration, birding and authentic safari atmosphere. The majority of travelers to the region either miss out Tarangire altogether or venture into the park for a matter of hours – leaving swathes of Tarangire virtually untouched!
Lake Manyara National Park is known for the flamingos that inhabit the lake. During the wet season they inhabit the edges of the lake in flocks of thousands but they are not so present during the dry season. More than 400 species of birds inhabit the park and many remain throughout the year. Because of this Lake Manyara National Park is a good spot for bird watching. Visitors to the park can expect to see upwards of 100 different species of bird on any day.
The Selous Game Reserve, covering 50,000 square kilometres, is amongst the largest protected areas in Africa and is relatively undisturbed by human impact. The property harbours one of the most significant concentrations of elephant, black rhinoceros, cheetah, giraffe, hippopotamus and crocodile, amongst many other species. The reserve also has an exceptionally high variety of habitats including Miombo woodlands, open grasslands, riverine forests and swamps, making it a valuable laboratory for on-going ecological and biological processes.
Ruaha National Park Ruaha National Park is the largest national park in Tanzania. It covers an area of about 13,000 square kilometres. It is located in the middle of Tanzania about 130 kilometres from Iringa. The park is part of a more extensive ecosystem, which includes Rungwa Game Reserve, Usangu Game Reserve, and several other protected areas. The name of the park is derived from the Great Ruaha River, which flows along its South-Eastern margin and is the focus for game-viewing. The park can be reached by car via Iringa and there is an airstrip at Msembe, park headquarters.
Mahale Mountains National Park nestled on the Lake Tanganyikan shoreline in western Tanzania, is absolutely stunning. Forested mountains cascade down to the lake shore, the mist-covered peak of Mount Nkungwe rises up in the background and crystal-clear waters teeming with fish lap against white sand coves.
Perched at around 2,600 metres (8,500 ft) between the rugged peaks of the Kipengere, Poroto and Livingstone Mountains, the well-watered volcanic soils of Kitulo support the largest and the most important montane grassland community in Tanzania. Having its unique flower species remained wild, with birds singing and migrating to the highland forests, Kitulo Plateau National Park is latest and a new comer to Tanzania’s tourist attractive sites.
Tanzania’s smallest national park, tiny Rubondo Island on the heart of Africa’s largest lake packs a lot into its 240 square kilometres. Known as the Jewel of Victoria, Rubondo Island National Park bvoasts a unique diversity of flora and fauna including the endemic Sitatunga.
The Mkomazi National Park is a spectacular wilderness. Within sight to the northwest is Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest summit. To the south, the Pare and Usambara Mountains form a dramatic backdrop and, to the north, Kenya’s vast Tsavo National Park shares a border with Mkomazi, making common ground for migratory herds of elephant, oryx and zebra during the wet season. Together with Tsavo, it forms one of the largest and most important protected ecosystems on earth.
Saadani National Park is situated on the north coast of Tanzania, approximately 100km North West of Dar es Salaam. This is a place where the bush meets the ocean, the only wildlife sanctuary in East Africa bordering the sea with romantic palm trees, beautiful white sandy beaches and spectacular views of the blue waters of the Indian Ocean.
Gombe Stream National Park, located on the western border of Tanzania and the Congo, is most famous for Jane Goodall, the resident primatologist who spent many years in its forests studying the behavior of the endangered chimpanzees. Gombe was designated as a game reserve in 1943, was upgraded into a national park status in 1968. The park is located 16 km north of Kigoma town on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in western Tanzania. It covers an area of 56 square kilometers and is a fragile habitat for chimpanzee.
Udzungwa Mountains National Park in southern Tanzania covers more than 770 square miles (1990 sq. km). The incredible diversity of tropical flora and fauna species has earned the park recognition as an Ecoregion of Global Critical Importance by World Wildlife Fund, as well as a World Biodiversity Hotspot, and the park is part of the Eastern Arc Mountains that extend from the Taita Hills in Kenya to Pare, Usambara, Nguru, Ukaguru, Uluguru, Rubeho and Udzungwa Mountains. The landscape is primarily mountain ranges interspersed with rainforest and arid savannah
Kilimanjaro National Park, in the East African country of Tanzania, is home to the continent’s highest mountain, snowcapped Mt. Kilimanjaro. Around the base of its tallest peak, relatively accessible hiking trails wind through rainforest inhabited by colobus monkeys and past the volcanic caldera of Lake Chala. Approaching the summit of Uhuru Peak, the slopes steepen and are studded with glacial ice fields.
Mikumi National Park is located 300kms South West of Dar-es-Salaam, and offers sighting of a wide variety of game within it’s 3200 square kilometers, including baboon, buffalo, hunting dogs, leopard, lion and greater kudu. Excursions from Dar-es-Salaam are routinely available to the park.