If you think of the great Wildebeest Migration, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s a huge herd of wildebeest travelling from A to B over a short distance, and you’ve got to be at a certain place at a certain time to witness it. In reality, the herds are always in migration, in a generally clockwise route, month by month. So here’s The Great Migration made simple, so you can pick up the key points and plan your trip to coincide with one of Nature’s greatest wonders of the world.
The herds contain over a million wildebeest who group together for protection and company. You might also know wildebeest as gnus, and they are a type of antelope. The blue (or brindled) wildebeest is local to Tanzania, with its cousin the black wildebeest native to South Africa. And not every blue wildebeest migrates – some are quite happy to stay put.
And it’s not just wildebeest involved in the migration – thousands of zebra and gazelle accompany them on their route, which is two thousand miles long. Zebras are excellent early warning systems, warning of predators such as lions, cheetah, hyenas, leopard and, in the rivers such as the Mara and the Grumeti, crocodile. Vultures, too, follow the wildebeest migration, feeding from wildebeest carcasses left by predators.
The star of the show
Wildebeest are built to travel. They’ve evolved to travel long distances efficiently and effectively and no more energy to run than to they do to amble along. They’re constantly trying to save time and even mate whilst they’re migrating. Wildebeest babies can walk as soon as they are born.
And although they fall prey to predators, literally, they’re not the weak victims that this might suggest. Predators tend to try to isolate the old or ill; or very young wildebeest, who are usually well protected by the herd. A wildebeest can top 50 mph and its kick can damage a lion severely. Wildebeest also have “swarm” intelligence, working out how to get round obstacles together, and not afraid to attack predators en masse.
This group work saves lives. Because wildebeest, zebras and antelope herd together in the open grasslands and act as lookout and protection for each other and other herbivores living there, there is much less predation – as a result, for instance, more baby giraffes survive into adulthood.
Generally, from January to March the herds spread across the lush short grass plains of the southern Serengeti where they calf – over 8000 calves are born each day.
Best places to stay: a mobile camp is the best option, and these can be as simple or as luxurious as you like. For instance, the Ndutu Safari Lodge is great value for money and has all the essentials you need, whereas if you want to treat yourself, head for the Mwiba Lodge.
In April and May the herd drifts northwards through Seronera through the Western Corridor and in June cross the Grumeti River.
Best places to stay: it’s possible to watch the migration at Ndutu Safari Lodge or the Kusini Camp. During May, the Serengeti campsite is an excellent location for spotting a range of resident species, as well as wildebeest and zebra.
Through June and July some of the herd shears off to the north while the rest head through the Grumeti Reserve and then northwest through Ikorongo.
Best places to stay: in June, for a luxury safari experience, the Singita Grumeti Reserve is an excellent choice. It offers many activities such as wildlife viewing walks and night drives.
August, September and October see the herds grazing in the north of the Serengeti and Kenya’s Masai Mara.
Best places to stay: If you’re feeling extravagant, the Mara River Tented Camp is perfect. The Sayari Camp is an excellent runner-up with beautiful tented rooms that are only minutes away from wildebeest migration river crossing stations. If you’d like a bit of peace and quiet, Bushtops and Nomad’s Lamai Camp offer very calm and tranquil accommodation, and for the more budget-conscious, Mara Explorers is a good choice.
In November and December the herd start massing together again and grazing southwards through the east of the park in time for the rains which help the lush grasslands, the herd’s January starting point, grow.
Best places to stay: you’ll be able to view the wildebeest migration from the beautifully-located Klein’s Camp.