A frequently asked question regarding Tanzania safaris is: What’s all the hype about the Serengeti and the wildebeest migration?
First, a short geography lesson…
Serengeti is Africa’s most famous wildlife area thanks to the world’s largest unaltered mammal migration, during which two million wildebeest along with hundreds of thousands of other ungulates engage in a 1,000 km long circular trek. The ecosystem encompasses 10,395 m², with Serengeti National Park at the heart of the larger Serengeti ecosystem. It is comprised of a variety of habitats: grass plains, woodlands, wetlands, mountains, lakes, riverine areas and thick bushes.
The area is contiguous with Ngorongoro Conservation Area (8,292 km2). The entire ecosystem includes the Maswa Game Reserve in the South, Ikorongo and Grumeti Game Reserves in the West, Loliondo Game Controlled Area in the East and Maasai Mara National Reserve to the North (Kenya). The ecosystem supports not only the world’s largest ungulate migration but also the highest concentration of large predators in the world. Estimates put numbers at two million wildebeest, 250,000 zebra and 440,000 Thompson gazelle.
What will be going on during my visit?
The migration is set on its course by a change in season. As the dry season sets in, the food and water supply in that area dwindle, forcing them to move in search of fresh pastures. The most important point to note is that nothing is certain; there is unpredictability in this naturally occurring phenomenon. Our insights and tracking over time have allowed us to anticipate where the herds will generally be located at certain times of the year.
From late December through March,
the herds are typically spreading out across the southern Serengeti plains where the grasses are long. These plains include an area within the Serengeti National Park border, and an area just beyond the border called Ndutu. The green season at this time makes the short grass plains in these areas a food source for the migrating herds. This can be considered the epicenter of the migration, with the calving season occurring in February, typically within a two-week window.
the calves have grown enough that the herds start moving northward into central Serengeti, traversing Moru kopjes, Maasai kopjes and Seronera valley. The valley’s Seronera River is the best place to observe large carnivores in action. Leopards and lions claim habitat along the river where they easily ambush their prey. By late May the herds are usually moving west, bunching together before some cross the Grumeti River, a harrowing experience laden with hungry predators and deep waters.
some herds begin heading north, where there are several more significant river crossings that test their strength and perseverance as they spread out across northern Serengeti and into Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve. The Mara River is famous for the dramatic crossings featured in many documentaries. It is here where the world’s largest crocodile, the Nile crocodile, lays in wait for a meal. Half of the river is situated in Tanzania’s north Serengeti and hosts migrating herds well into November.
As the short rainy season begins in November,
the herds move southeast as the cycle begins again.
Will I see other animals if I don’t catch the migration?
Serengeti offers exceptional game viewing year-round. The variety and abundance of wildlife is far greater than any other park in Africa. Resident animals are plentiful and regardless of when you travel, a vast array of wildlife can be spotted due to the size and nature of the park.