The Great Migration, East Africa
The earth vibrates with the thundering of millions of hooves as heaving herds of wildebeest, zebra and gazelles fill the plains to chase the rains in the epic annual struggle for survival known as the Great Migration. It is the greatest show on earth, a natural spectacle like no other and a life-changing experience. With a presence all along the Great Wildebeest Migration route, Asilia will transport you to the best seat in the house.
Few lifetime experiences can beat that of watching over a million wildebeest plus hundreds of thousands of gazelles and zebra – followed by their predators – embark on a 1 000km-long circular trek through the unfenced Maasai Mara and Serengeti in search of seasonal pasture and water. This natural spectacle is both thrilling and profoundly moving.
Wildebeest migrate annually
1 000 KILOMETRES
Covered in a circular trek
JULY – AUGUST
Best time for river crossings
What is the Great Migration
The annual Wildebeest Migration is a drama in two acts: the arresting dash for freedom as the herds swarm across the Mara and other rivers in the north – braving enormous Nile crocodiles, lion, hyena, cheetah and leopard – in search of water and new grazing, followed by the remarkable months of calving in the lush grasslands of the south. The Great Migration can also be split up into two main parts; the Serengeti Migration as well as the Maasai Mara Migration. To get a better understanding of where the herds move, or if you’ve ever found yourself asking the question, “Where is the Serengeti Migration?”, you can have a look at our interactive Wildebeest Migration Map.
It is the largest herd movement of animals on the planet. In fact, with up to 1 000 animals per km2, it can be seen from space. The numbers are astonishing: over 1,2 million wildebeest and 300 000 zebra along with topi and other gazelle move in a constant cycle through the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem in search of nutritious grass and water. Guided by survival instinct, each wildebeest will cover 800 to 1 000km on its individual journey along age-old migration routes. Hungry predators – lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena, wild dog and crocs – make sure only the strongest survive.
It is thought that rainfall over 50km away can trigger the start of the mass movement – perhaps through smell or the recognition of thunder and lightening on the horizon. The circuit takes the animals from the Ngongorogoro Conservation Area in the south of the Serengeti in Tanzania, up through the Serengeti and across into the Maasai Mara, and back again. The journey is beset with danger: young calves are snatched by predators, the slow are brought down by prides of lion, brave beasts break legs on steep river slopes, crocodiles take their share of the stragglers, and the weak and exhausted drown.
There is something truly remarkable about the mass calving of wildebeest between late January and early March. Within a matter of weeks, most female wildebeest drop their calves in a synchronised birthing that sees the Serengeti’s southern plains filled with over 400 000 young. Estimates are that 8 000 wildebeest are born a day – that is 300 every hour!
While lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena and wild dog certainly eat their fill of these gangly baby gnus, the synchronised calving is an effective survival mechanism for the species: there is simply too much food for the predators to consume.
Did You Know?
The Serengeti-Mara’s unique combination of soils and climate provide the perfect conditions for the wildebeest to live in such large migratory herds. Their ability to capitalise on the region’s changing grass conditions, their mobility to help them escape predation and their short, synchronized calving system all combine to make them the most successful large herbivore in the ecosystem.
The wildebeest congregate in the Southern Serengeti Plains – the Ndutu Area and the northern area of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA). They are attracted by the abundant fresh grass on the fertile plains and the calcium in the soil, which is essential for growth and is transferred to the calves through the mother’s milk.
Between late January and mid-March, over 80% of fertile female wildebeest drop their calves within a few weeks of one another. Over 400 000 tiny wildebeest dot the plains and the predators swoop in to feast on the easy prey.
Wildebeest still occupy the southern area of Serengeti National Park, but are preparing to move north as the plains dry out.
Strictly speaking, there is no ‘migration season’ as the Great Migration is, in fact, an eternal annual cycle from place to place, year in and year out. So whether the great herds are calving in the south or on the move north in search of greener pastures – and then back again – there is a huge variety of astounding scenes unfolding before you.
The herds congregate near Lake Ndutu in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. An estimated 500 000 calves are born during a two- to three-week window in February. This mass calving draws many predators. The area consists of plains of short grass, which contains lots of calcium and is the perfect nutrition for lactating mothers and young babies.
As the rains come to an end and the ground dries, the herds start making their way north into the Southern Serengeti. They graze and move slowly as they have their young calves travelling with them and the grass is still fresh.
May is the mating season for wildebeest and the males do fierce battle for a mate. Throughout the rut, the journey continues as some herds head west into the Western Corridor and cross the Grumeti River.
The herds head towards the north of the Serengeti. The river crossings, considered by some the most exciting events of the Great Migration, usually start in July, but timing all depends on the rains.
The herds can be found in the Northern Serengeti as well as in Kenya’s Maasai Mara. Daily river crossings can be seen at the Mara and Talek rivers. This is often the base of the most exciting crossings!
The herds usually cross back to the Serengeti from the Mara and head towards the now fertile Ndutu Area. The herds travel fast and cover long distances in a single day. By the beginning of December, Ndutu starts seeing the herds return to calve, and for the whole process begins again.
Experience The Great Migration
Our camps give you a front-row seat to the best show on earth. We have carefully chosen prime spots to pitch camp along the Migration route – our sites offer you exclusive access to the highest possible density of game, far away from the masses. You can choose an authentic safari experience at our permanent camps close to the river crossings or stay in one of our seasonal camps that move to excellent locations a few times a year to follow the migration. All are supremely comfortable, low-key, relaxed and put you in the right spot every time.
Permanent Camps (Kenya)
- Mara Bush Houses Open year round
- Naboisho Camp 15 May to March
- Nomadic Camp March to October; December to March
- Rekero Camp June to March
Permanent Camps (Tanzania)
Mobile Camps (Tanzania)