Serengeti wildebeest migration

The great Serengeti 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, Thomson’s gazelle, eland and impala. These move in an annual pattern which is fairly predictable. 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.

Month by month: The Serengeti wildebeest migration

The Southern Serengeti’s huge grass plains extend into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. From December to March the Serengeti Migration congregates in large herds around Lake Ndutu in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. When it reaches the area the herd splits up and spreads out leaving wildebeest herds as far as the eye can see. Ndutu Lodge and Kusini are the only permanent lodges in the area; Kusini is best towards the end of the period whereas Ndutu Lodge works throughout.  Asilia’s Dunia Camp is also a good option at the beginning of December and again when the herds push north in March.

This is rainy season in Tanzania. The Wildebeest migration moves north into the plains of the southern Serengeti with front runners stretching out to the Western Corridor and centre of the park at Seronera.  Asilia’s Dunia Camp is a great option at this time as are any of the central Serengeti hotels such as the Serena or Sopa.  Early herds may well have pushed up to the Grumeti River Camp, Kirawira and Mbalageti Lodge area of the Western Corridor.

June is mating season for the herds, so can be very noisy if you catch many together. By June there are wildebeest herds spread from the Western corridor through the heart of the park. One group tends to head West into the Western Corridor and crosses the Grumeti River before leaving the park and entering the exclusive Singita Grumeti Reserves.  This herd will then head up through the Ikorongo game reserve on the Serengeti’s Western corridor before the front runners arrive into the Kogatende area in July.  The other herds head directly to the north of the Serengeti, passing straight up the middle through Seronera, Lobo and up to the Bologonja river area near the Eastern border with the Loliondo reserve at Kleins.  It is true to say that at this time herds can be anywhere from the Western corridor through to the Eastern side of the park.  Splinter herds will break from the main herds, covering huge areas in their search for fresh grasses.  We would recommend Grumeti River Camp, Faru Faru, Sasakwa, Sabora, Mbalageti Lodge and Kirawira for the Western corridor, whereas some herds will have pushed up as far as Migration camp in the Northern Lobo area.  Late July will see any of the Kogatende permanent lodges having good herds, Serengeti Lamai and Sayari Camp being the places to go towards the end of July.

From August through to October the herds are in the Northern Serengeti at Kogatende as well as in Kenya’s Masai Mara. River crossings often happen daily here.  With only a fraction of the visitor numbers that flock to the Mara, Kogatende is an exceptional destination. Given that the herds are simply following local rainfall, some move north, some move south… and many move in both directions in the same day. The sprawling mass moves in a circular fashion throughout these months – and as a result this is a fantastic time of year to see the herds.

People who do not aware of the specific movements of the Migration often make the mistake of assuming the herds head north from June, cross into Kenya and stay there until October, only returning in November when the pastures are all grazed. This would be a logical thought, but it is simply not the reality! You will see at the river crossings, they may cross over, then suddenly cross back the other way – it is not a structured single mass movement but a series of hectic snap decisions “to cross or not to cross”!

If one wildebeest takes the leap of faith, many may cross too, and similarly if one decides to turn back and cross over again, many will most likely follow suit; there may be 10 which decide to cross or 10,000. This means that there are excellent opportunities to see a crossing in Tanzania due to the amount of different crossings (and various crossing points along the Mara River), and due to the fact that they are always in the northern Serengeti from July – October (as opposed to them only sometimes being in the Masai Mara at this time!).

In late October and November the herds start their second Great Migration south towards the fertile lands of the Ndutu plains where the rains will have rejuvenated the grasses since the herds were last there earlier in the year. This can be a tricky time to catch the mega herd, as it covers vast distances every day. However, this is not set in stone as one of our team caught this mega crossing in November a few years back..

By the beginning of December, the herds are returning to Ndutu to calve, and the whole process is ready to start all over again.

We must reiterate….wildebeest are not the most predictable of animals!  The Migration is also entirely dependent upon rain, with the herds constantly searching for fresh grasses. As a result, it is a challenge to predict with any confidence where the herds will be during any particular week, and therefore to decide where best to stay. Choosing a permanent camp or mobile camp for your Tanzania safari that is located in the ‘right’ area for the time of year will clearly increase your chances, but there are no guarantees.