Everything You Need to Know about the Great Wildebeest Migration

Witness the greatest show in East Africa

When the wildebeest start running between Tanzania and Kenya the tourists start arriving to witness the greatest show in East Africa. The Great Wildebeest Migration is a natural drama that plays out in the splendour of the Serengeti and the magnificence of the Masai Mara. It’s still Africa’s greatest spectacle and one of the most incredible natural phenomena on Earth. It’s the most sought-after safari experience for African adventurers who want to be part of something surreal. Read on to find out everything you need to know about the Great Wildebeest Migration.

The Great Migration involves over two million animals and occurs every year in Tanzania and Kenya. It’s the largest overland animal migration on earth. Picture a mind-blowing 40 km column of wildebeest, zebra and gazelles moving across 800km of open grasslands and dry woodlands. For everything you need to know about the Great Wilderness Migration, read our travel blog and learn the magic of Africa and its life cycles. This one is for the top of your bucket list of choice safari tours in 2024 to the Serengeti National Park and the Masai Mara Game Reserve. Join thousands of international and local travelers who are enthralled by one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World when they arrive on safari to stay in luxury wilderness camps and lodges.

An aerial view of the thousands of wildebeest during the Great Wildebeest Migration
An aerial view of the thousands of wildebeest during the Great Migration

Why Do Wildebeest Migrate?

Animals have basic needs including food, water and procreation hence they are driven by an innate force to survive in their particular life cycles. Africa is the heart of the animal kingdom and the unusual wildebeest is one vital part of the food web in natural grasslands, woodlands and floodplain habitats. The gnu is primarily a source of food for hungry predators including lions, cheetahs, wild dogs and hyenas. The gnu is part of the antelope family, related to gazelles and oryxes, and it packs a lot of meat as a prey animal. 

In their search for food every year, the wildebeest follow the rains and the fertile habitats for lush, nutritious grasses to eat. So, they move in a vast loop through Tanzania and Kenya in a never-ending cycle of survival, from winter to summer, through autumn and spring. Tourists may view the Great Migration at any one point along its route when the animals are at unique stages of their survival cycle in various regions. Every month sees the massive herds of wildebeest somewhere else, forever feeding, drinking and mating, dropping their calves or completing their own life cycles and dying gracefully in the grasslands. 

Wildebeest spend their early years in the Serengeti plains of south East Africa on the border of the Kenyan Masai Mara where they graze the delicious grasses in the open woodlands in a peaceful existence. As the rains stop and the dry seasons approach in May and June, the wildebeest start to move. They form larger and larger groups and soon there are more than 2 million of these incredible animals running to greener pastures, travelling day and night, feeding constantly. Animals know no boundaries so they run according to their instincts, as their parents and their parents did before them, knowing which way to go and how to go. They move in a spectacular northward force, driven by the weather patterns, and their journey is fraught with dangers from lurking predators including lions, cheetahs, hyenas, wild dogs and the huge Nile crocodiles in the many rivers to cross.  

Views of the Serengeti plains in East Africa
The Serengeti plains of southeast Africa during sunset

Follow The Wildebeest Migration in Kenya and Tanzania

Discover extraordinary wildlife sightings on a safari to the Serengeti or Masai Mara during the Great Migration. Follow huge herds of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle as they move from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara and back again, from April to October in a never-ending cycle of survival and life. When is the best time to view the migration and where should you be? This phenomenal race for life offers various options depending on what the safari enthusiast wants to see and which park they want to be in! See the herd in winter in the southern Serengeti or see the herd in summer in the western corridor, the Masai Mara and in autumn in the northern Serengeti. 

The Great Migration starts in the Serengeti when more than 500 000 new calves are born during February and March and spend months grazing to grow and get strong. This is a safe place for calves as predators can be easily seen in the short grasses. Wildebeest calves start to walk within minutes of being born and within a few days can keep up with the herd. They can live to be 20 years old, in the constant cycle of eating, drinking and breeding!

Three game vehicles driving through huge herds of wildebeest
People come from all over the world to view the Wildebeest Migration

The animals start to move north as the dry season approaches, into the Masai Mara where they spend the season and then they return to the Serengeti again during the rainy season. The dry grasses are not very nutritious so they look forward to moving to the south again to feed on the new grasses. This is late October every year, and once again, it is mating season, then calving season, until February and March when the rains will soon end, spurring the animals to move back to the Masai Mara. The outcome is a spiral movement from the south, west, north, and back to the south.

Despite these vague dates, nature is always unpredictable and the animals may not get to a destination when humans are expecting them so always keep your mind open for change and be prepared to enjoy a safari for the sake of biodiversity in all its glory. 

Guests on a safari game drive viewing the Great Wildebeest Migration
Guests on a game drive viewing the herds of Wildebeest while they are grazing.

Follow the detailed Wildebeest Migration in Tanzania and Kenya here:

  • December to April

The rains come from October to December, the mating and breeding period for the wildebeest. They are now in the Serengeti Plains southeast of Seronera, a vast grassland area that stretches to Ndutu near Ngorongoro Crater area. They roam and feed in huge numbers, calving in February in this lush Ndutu area and the rich southeastern plains. It’s a good time to be on safari to see all the offspring and the predators arriving en masse to feed opportunistically. In March and April, the herd starts to move. 

  • May to July

The wildebeest are moving to greener pastures as their calving region dries. This can be anytime from April to June when it’s now the height of the greatest African spectacle on earth – 2 million wildebeest making a 40 km long column marching to greener pastures in the Masai Mara. The herd moves to the Western Corridor to face the enormous hurdle of the Grumeti River, packed with lurking crocodiles and flowing waters. Sometimes the wildebeest wait for two weeks on the river banks before crossing this treacherous obstacle!

  • August to September

The herd is free to move further north now to the Mara River, another dangerous barrier in their path. It’s where many tourists like to await their arrival in several luxury camps and lodges perfectly placed for dramatic views of the Mara River Crossing. From August to September, the great wildebeest migration is in Kenya’s Masai Mara, a good time to be there on safari to witness the huge herds grazing and resting. Remember again that nature is unpredictable and sometimes half the herd remains in the Serengeti area of Tanzania. Observe smaller groups of wildebeest crossing the Mara River over and over for feeding opportunities. 

  • October to November

Now on their path north, the wildebeest must still cross the Mara River once more to reach the northern plains and Lobo area. Few tourists go there making it a good safari destination for visitors who like a quiet safari for pure wilderness immersion. View the animals returning from their incredible quest for survival. Then, at last, in November, the herd is back in the Serengeti from whence they came! And again, they mate and breed, soon dropping their calves at the end of the rainy season. This is the calving ground around Ndutu and then the Great Migration starts all over again.

The Perils of River Crossings

During the drier winter months in the Serengeti, thousands of wildebeest move to the Western Corridor and must cross the swollen Grumeti River, packed with lurking crocodiles and strongly flowing waters. The perils of river crossings include dangerous rapids and Nile crocodiles lying in wait, not to mention the many big cats waiting the tired wildebeest as they emerge from the torrents. The Grumeti River is a treacherous hurdle, daunting for the wildebeest, hundreds of which lose their lives right there. 

The herd continues to move further north to the next huge river, the Mara River, another dangerous obstacle in their path – again, crocodiles and heavy waters threaten their lives and when they stampede across the river, it can be tragic for many. Tourists seem to thrive on this natural drama and choose to stay in several luxury camps and lodges overlooking the Mara River Crossing. Various hungry predators lie in wait for the tired and scared wildebeest. From August to September, safari-goers can witness smaller groups of wildebeest crossing and recrossing the Mara River for feeding opportunities. Book a luxury suite in an upmarket safari camp near the Grumeti and Mara Rivers for an extraordinary yet very emotional experience as nature takes its course. 

Wildebeest crossing from one side of the river to the other during the Great Wildebeest Migration
The herds of wildebeest crossing the river rapids during their migration

Best Time to go on a Wildebeest Migrations Safari

There is no real Best Time to go on a wildebeest migrations safari. It is up to each tourist and safari enthusiast to decide when it’s the best time to visit Tanzania and Kenya for the Great Migration. Use our guide to assist you. Flights to East Africa are full between April and October as many visitors want to see the height of the Great Annual Gnu Migration at the two massive river crossings. 

But any destination on the animal’s circular migration route will bring just rewards. It’s a life-changing experience simply being around these phenomena and energies of nature. Seeing so many animals at any one time is jaw-droppingly beautiful. Choose popular safari lodges and game drive vehicles galore in the Serengeti and the Masai Mara or choose a quieter campsite in the wilderness to be alone with dedicated guides and the sounds of nature all around. 

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