Everything You Need to Know About the Great Migration in Kenya and Tanzania
The Great Migration of Africa, which is also nicknamed ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ is truly a one-of-a-kind experience that should be added to any wildlife enthusiasts’ bucket list. Given the migration patterns can be tricky, planning a trip requires in-depth knowledge and expertise.
That being said, we’ve created a short guide providing you with everything you need to know about the Great Migration in Kenya and Tanzania. We will go over have what exactly the Great Migration is, what influences it, the best times to view wildlife in both locations, and much more.
What is the Great Migration?
Each year over 1.5 million wildebeest, 200,000 zebras and 350,000 gazelles, antelopes gather on the drier plains of the Serengeti in Tanzania along with their young, to begin the trek towards greener lands of the Maasai Mara in Kenya. This trek is extremely tough, but these animals get through the journey of over 1800 miles with only two things in mind; fresh grass to graze upon and water to quench their thirst.
(A brief moment of rest with a welcomed friend in Tanzania)
This is an amazing wildlife event to witness with nothing but thousands of animals dotted in the national parks as far as the eyes can while exploring the dramatic landscapes of the vast savanna. In reality, the event is a race of the ‘survival of the fittest’ as 250,000 wildebeest and more than 30,000 zebras die on the way to Maasai Mara Nature Reserve as a result of hunger, thirst, attacks by predators or disease.
What influences the Great Migration?
The Great Migration is, therefore, a much more complex event occurring than what meets the eye. It happens throughout the year with the route of migration and the times fluctuating depending on a number of factors including how much rainfall Kenya and Tanzania are going to get. The calving and mating seasons of wildebeest, the hunting by predators like lions, leopards, hyenas and crocodiles are all a part of the Great Migration.
So, it begins with the wildebeest calving season in the Ndutu region of the Ngorongoro and the Southern Serengeti plains, and this to ensure that the Great Migration can be kept alive for generations to come. This is just after the rainy season in December- the green grasses are abundant to nurture the young and according to records more than 500,000 wildebeest calves are born up until March. During this time too, predators are attracted to the Serengeti Plains as they eagerly wait to prey upon newborn calves from the wildebeest mothers.
(Wildebeest crossing the Mara River)
The river crossings are the hardest part of all, where the hungry crocodiles are lurking around the banks of the Grumeti River of Tanzania and Maara River near Kenya waiting for these exhausted animals to become their prey. Scenes like this are commonly portrayed in wildlife documentaries showcasing how the stronger species always survive by fighting vigorously.
This is the same situation; the weaker ones get anxious and lose their ability to fight and the fittest animals get to the opposite banks of the rivers and ultimately to the Maasai Mara Nature Reserve in Kenya. Therefore, this is one of the best opportunities to photograph the ‘survival of the fittest’ moments not only in Africa but also in the world.
What are the best times to view wildlife in the Great Migration?
December–July: in Tanzania
From December to March, you can see wildlife in the Serengeti Plains of Tanzania. As mentioned earlier, this is the time when the thousands of wildebeest gather around the areas of Serengeti and Ngorongoro of northern Tanzania, to give birth to young ones. The weather is excellent and the lush green grass filled with nutrients provide an excellent food source to the calves. Therefore, the calving season is the best time to see hundreds of newborn babies running around playfully and also, the predators waiting for them to get isolated from their mothers to make a kill.
From April to May, most of the food sources in the Serengeti Plains dry up leaving these animals in hunger. So, they start migrating in search of the grassier areas in the Serengeti’s Western Corridor. However, due to the heavy rains, this is not an ideal time to see the Great Migration as most of the smaller camps shut down because the roads are inaccessible.
From June to July, rains stop and the mating season of wildebeest starts. You can see male wildebeests aggressively fighting to get the attention of the female wildebeests. The wildebeests, zebras, antelopes and gazelles make much larger herds and move to the Western Serengeti towards the Grumeti River. The river is deep and therefore, as mentioned earlier you can see the survival of the fittest here as the animals try to cross the river by fighting the hungry crocodiles. You can camp alongside the river to experience it to the fullest.
August – November: in Kenya
In August, the green grasses of the Western Serengeti dry up, making the only option for the animals to head to Kenya’s Mara Plains and the Mara Triangle. But before that, they have to cross the Mara River, another dangerous point that is equally deep and filled with hungry crocodiles.
From September to November, the lush Mara Plains are packed with thousands of wildebeests, zebras, antelopes, gazelles- all those who are left after the treacherous journey of months. You can see them grazing grass, resting well but also, trying to get away from the predators that are being attracted into the Mara Plains.
From November to December, rains start in the south and these herds head back to the Serengeti Plains of Tanzania, completing the tiring and the long trek in time for the calving season to give birth to the young.
Thus, this is a never-ending cycle with plenty of wildlife sightings- and a beautiful journey of thousand miles that these animals are so determined to take as one to ensure their survival. However, only the fittest are lucky enough to back to the Serengeti Plains to produce the next generation of the Great Migration.
Ready to see what an experience during the Great Migration could look like for you? Check out some of our popular migration itineraries and then get in touch to start planning today. Keep in mind that this is one of the most sought-after wildlife events, so booking in advance is encouraged and often a necessity.