The Great Migration Calendar in January, February, and March
Around January each year, the great migration will be finishing a southwards trek, moving along the eastern edge of the Serengeti national park and into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Here the plains are rich in nutritious grass, providing the herds with the best conditions for raising their newborn calves.
Although there is no real beginning or end to this migratory circuit – other than birth and death – it seems reasonable to call the wildebeests’ birthing season the start of the migration.
Around late January or February, the herds occupy the short-grass plains that spread over the lower northern slopes of the Ngorongoro Crater highlands and around Olduvai Gorge.
Some 400,000 calves are born here within a period of two to three weeks – some 8,000 new calves every day.
The abundance of vulnerable young calves means the surrounding predators also spring into action, hunting with ease due to the sheer numbers of wildebeest.
Those interested in witnessing calving and the drama of big cats on the hunt should look to Asilia’s migration camps in the southern Serengeti which provide direct access: Olakira, Kimondo, and Ubuntu.
The Great Migration in April and May
After bearing their young in February and March, around April the wildebeest herds begin to drift northwest towards the fresher grass of the central Serengeti, drawing with them thousands of zebra and smaller groups of antelope.
By May, columns of wildebeest stretch for several kilometers as the animals start to congregate by the Moru Kopjes, close to Dunia Camp, of the few camps in the Serengeti that offers migration viewing at this time of year.
Mating season begins towards the end of May and male wildebeest battle head-to-head. Throughout ‘the rut’, the journey continues at leisure, with the wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle grazing as they go along.
Gradually, the movement gathers momentum and the wildebeest starts to mass in the Serengeti’s Western Corridor.
At this time of year, Ubuntu Migration Camp (true to its name) will have relocated to follow the migration and provide access to watch the wildebeest cross the Grumeti River.
The herds form in huge numbers along with the pools and channels of the river, which they have to cross in order to continue on their journey.
This may not be as spectacular as the famous Mara crossings, but there are still enough wildebeest to provide the Grumeti crocs with a veritable feast.
It is worth noting that May is the low season at Ubuntu; safaris at this time offer great value since there are relatively low numbers of tourists in the Serengeti yet the wildlife viewings remain excellent.
The Great Migration in June and July
During June, the dry season starts, with large concentrations of wildebeest in the Western Serengeti and on the southern banks of the Grumeti River.
Each migrating animal must face the challenge of crossing the crocodile-infested river – the first of many daunting and tense river encounters.
As June moves into July, the hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebra continue to head north along the western edge of the park towards an even riskier barrier: the Mara River in the north of the Serengeti.
These river crossings are arguably one of the most exciting wildlife events on Earth; they usually start at the onset of high season in July, but timing all depends on nature.
During July, the herds will typically be found in the Northern Serengeti, where access is provided by Asilia’s three mobile migration camps as well as Sayari Camp (for those looking to indulge just a little bit more).
Later in July, those animals that have successfully made it across the Mara River will also be found in Kenya’s Masai Mara, where guests of Rekero can watch river crossings right from the main deck of the camp. At this time, daily river crossings can be seen at the Mara and Talek rivers – both often central to incredible scenes.
The Great Migration in August, September, and October
By August, the herds have faced the challenge of crossing the Mara River and are spread throughout the Masai Mara’s northern region, with many remaining in the northern Serengeti. In years when the river is in full flow, the panic and confusion at the crossings – combined with waiting predators and surging currents – can cause massive loss of life.
But, even in years of relatively gently flowing water, the crocs take their toll – not to mention the lions and other large predators that patrol the banks, ready to ambush any wildebeest that make it to the other side.
There is no single crossing: at some spots, there are just a few individuals, while others see a mass of animals moving without break for hours.
By September to October, the main chaos has ended and the migrating columns have gradually moved eastwards. However, the wildebeest will face the heavy waters of the Mara River once more as they prepare to cross once again for their return journey southwards.
The Great Migration in November and December
After the East African short rains in late October and early November, the wildebeest move down from Kenya and into the eastern limits of the Serengeti past Namiri Plains, an area known for outstanding cheetah sightings. By December, they are spread throughout the eastern and southern reaches.
In the early months of the New Year, the grasses in the deep south of the Serengeti are lush with rain. This draws the herds – not only of wildebeest but also hundreds of thousands of zebra and other plains animals. The cycle continues as the calving season starts once again.