The Great Wildebeest Migration
Updated: Jul 21, 2021
How to Experience the Greatest Show on Earth
It is one of the most spectacular wildlife events on the planet, the greatest show on earth playing out across the vast plains and rolling hills of the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania and Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Every year, led by the life-giving rains that feed the lush savannahs, 1.5 million wildebeest make a circular journey, rivers of black pouring across from the southern Serengeti to the Masaai Mara and back again.
Some 400,000 zebra and 200,000 gazelles (Grant’s, Thomson’s, eland and impala) accompany them along the way, making a total of over two million migrating animals thundering as one. The local guides at Losokwan Camp have a special intuition for the movement of the herds, knowing both from instinct and experience where the best places are to watch this natural spectacle unfold. and ensure the survival of Kenya’s precious wildlife for future generations.
Some of the young are too tired to make the crossing, others falling victim to crocodiles or waiting lions. To watch such a battle for life is humbling and emotional, filled with excitement and fear.
Nature’s Most Perilous Journey
The migration is only as predictable as the rains, but the life-cycle of the great stampede usually begins between January and March when, in the southern reaches of the Serengeti in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, half a million calves are born in a two to three week period. As the rains dry out in May and the plains become parched, streams of wildebeest begin their journey towards the Masaai Mara. The route is fraught with dangers, with predators waiting to feast on the young and weak.
Powerful, patient crocodiles wait at the river crossings, where the animals are funneled into the deep waters, and in their wake lions, hyenas, cheetahs and leopards join the feeding frenzy. They too follow the herds as they make their way to their dry season refuge in the Masaai Mara where they will stay until the October rains send them back towards the Serengeti.
A Cacophony of Sounds, Smells and Sights
To experience the Wildebeest Migration in the Maasai Mara National Reserve is one of the greatest and most astounding spectacles on earth. It is not just the sight of such vast numbers of powerful animals moving across the landscape in a harmonious and instinctive way, but the cacophony of sounds and smells too. Dust rises into the blue sky as their hooves pound the sun-scorched earth, creating a cloud above them which lingers long after they have passed.
The musky, dusty smell is unmistakable, the scent of nature, pure and simple, is something visitors remember vividly. Yet it is the sound which surprises most, a black thunder of hooves and bellows, of snorts and stampedes which fills the air. As you wait, heart in mouth, for the herds to arrive, it is the distant sound which first alerts you to their imminent arrival. The adrenaline and anticipation grows with the increasing sound, the path of the wildebeest, zebra and gazelle through the Maasai Mara announced with bellowing sounds.
The Maasai Mara is considered the best place to witness this spectacular display of animal behavior, the strong rivers acting a funnels to the herds who must brave not just the powerful waters but the waiting predators.
The Maasai Mara River Crossings
The Maasai Mara is considered the best place to witness this spectacular display of animal behavior, the strong rivers acting a funnels to the herds who must brave not just the powerful waters but the waiting predators. It is an experience filled with emotions as you watch in trepidation as the herds stand poised on the riverbanks, sometimes for hours, before bravely taking the plunge. Many will not make it, some of the young too tired to make the crossing, others falling victim to crocodiles or waiting lions. To watch such a battle for life is humbling and emotional, filled with excitement and fear, elation for those who make it across, and heartbreak for those who don’t.
While the river crossings are the most well-known way to watch the stampede, it has given rise to some confusion about the migration. The migration is an ongoing movement of animals which takes place throughout the year, and there are possibilities to see them in various stages of their migration.
The Migration on the Plains
The wildebeest migrate to search for the green, lush grasses which will burst from the ground as the rains wash over the Maasai Mara. Once they have navigated the dangers and great distances from the Serengeti, they rest, grazing on the plains, allowing their calves to grow strong and preparing themselves for the journey back again. This annual cycle is fluid and ever-changing, and one of the best experiences of the wildebeest and their fellow animals is during the time they are grazing.
Fear and panic leaves the herd, the wide-eyed snorting of the river crossings evaporates, and they settle into life on the great savannahs. During this time our guests can embark on wildebeest migration safaris through the herds, marveling at their sheer numbers and reflecting on their intrinsic connection to nature and the Maasai Mara weather. They can watch as they nurture their young, graze, play, and socialize. Of course, danger lurks for the animals of the Maasai Mara, and predators are never far away, meaning astounding opportunities to see big lions, cheetahs, leopards and hyenas.
When to Experience the Migration
Nature doesn’t follow exact dates, and the migration is possibly the greatest example of that. While statistics from previous years can give us approximate and often quite reliable times, ultimately the rains and weather dictate when and where they will move. The guides at Losokwan Camp work with local organizations to pinpoint when the migration will occur, and ensure our guests are there when it does.
The Mara river crossings occur around the end of July, through August and into early September, and again on the animals’ return to the Serengeti at the end of October and early November. These months provide the most reliable times to view the migration in action. Yet it is important to remember that the herds are in the Maasai Mara for about three months, and during this time you can have up-close and intimate experiences with them as they graze on the lush, green plains they travelled so far and through such peril to reach. In the Lemek Conservancy, we are lucky to have the wildebeest all around us from July through to November.
Experience the Migration:
At Losokwan Camp we believe in a bespoke, personalized experience and this is true of the Great Wildebeest Migration. Our knowledgeable, local guides will take you where you want to go, and help you experience one of nature’s greatest spectacles the way you have always dreamed of. Get in touch today and let’s start planning your trip of a lifetime.