The Serengeti is vast and beautiful; it’s one of Africa’s most captivating safari areas. The sheer amount of game here is amazing: estimates suggest up to about two million wildebeest, plus perhaps half a million zebra, hundreds of thousands of Thompson’s gazelle, and tens of thousands of impala, Grant’s gazelle, topi (tsessebe), hartebeest, eland and other antelope all hunted by the predators for which these plains are famous.
Some of this game resides permanently in ‘home’ areas, which are great for safaris all year round. But many of the wildebeest and zebra take part in the migration an amazing spectacle that’s one of the greatest wildlife shows on earth. If you plan carefully, it’s still possible to witness this in wild and remote areas.
Month by month: the 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 Thomson’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 July and August, often spreading out across a broad front: some heading through Grumeti Reserve and Ikorongo, others north through the heart of the Serengeti National Park.
September 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.
By October the wildebeest herds are migrating again with more accord: all are heading south, through western Loliondo and the Serengeti National Park’s Lobo area, returning to the green shoots which follow the rains on the short-grass plains of the southern Serengeti in November.
Then the whole Serengeti Wildebeest migration starts again …