Where To See the Great Migration
For those who have seeing 7 Natural Wonders of Africa on their bucket list, joining the Great Migration Safari in the Serengeti offers a first hand look at one of nature’s most jaw dropping phenomenons. For those who don’t, you might want to consider adding it! However, exactly where to see the Great Migration requires a bit of knowledge and a bit of luck! Largely based in Tanzania, this pilgrimage is regarded to be one of East Africa’s, if not the world’s, most inspiring natural attractions.
The Serengeti ecosystem covers 30,000 km2 (12,000 sq. miles) of land, spanning large areas of Northern Tanzania and South West Kenya, where it is referred to as the Masai Mara. The word Serengeti comes from a word in the Maasai Language, meaning “endless plains,” a literal description of the land it covers. It is home to the vast population of wildebeest that make the Great Migration each year, as well as the giant herds of zebras, gazelles and other game that join them. In search of green grazing land and water, the animals make the yearly pilgrimage between Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park to the Masai Mara Natural Reserve in Kenya and back. This 800 km (500 mile) loop is the best place to go for those interested in doing the Great Migration Safari.
Though the broad pattern and route of the Great Migration are known, the exact location of the wildebeest can be hard to determine. This is partially due to the fact that their timing and location is largely dependant on the rainfall patterns each year. Additionally, since wildebeest herds don’t have a defined leader, it can be difficult to pinpoint an exact region. Many maps of the Great Migration show the route of the main herd, but splinter herds can fill up to half of the Serengeti. The animals carry a map etched in their genes, and their movement is based on organic instinct. Therefore, the direction and general areas of their trek are known, but the precise locations and timing are hard to define since they don’t travel in a uniform group.
The migration begins in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area of the Serengeti in Tanzania. The herds stay here for several months from December to March, enjoying lush grass and giving birth to approximately 500,000 calves. This area is known for the diverse wildlife, the Olduvai Gorge, and the Ngorongoro Crater, which is one of Africa’s Seven Natural Wonders. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its cultural and natural wonders making it an exciting destination for safaris.
River crossings are a dangerous and widely documented part of the Great Migration, and they are a popular site for safaris. The herds must brave rivers teeming with huge crocodiles in order to get to their final destination, and many, especially the young and weak, don’t make it out alive. After heading North, the wildebeests amass in huge numbers at the banks of the Grumeti River around June. This river crossing is expected by the crocodiles, who take advantage of this annual feast. However, the largest river crossing occurs around September at the iconic Mara River, near Kenya’s Masai Mara Natural Reserve. The herds clumsily trample down the steep cliff banks until they reach the water. This river crossing is the most dangerous for the wildebeests, as many of the animals fall prey to the crocodiles. This deadly event is a favorite for dramatic photos and gut wrenching video footage.
For the herd members who make it through the journey alive, the annual trek concludes at South West Kenya’s Masai Mara Natural reserve, where they spend a short time grazing on fresh pasture. However, predators lurk in this ecosystem as well, in the form of lions and hyenas. By October, the Great Migration begins the journey south, completing the round trip back to Tanzania and the Serengeti National Park.
Seeing the Great Migration in Tanzania’s Serengeti is a once in a lifetime experience, promising to thrill travelers with the beauty and brutality of nature. The wildlife, biological diversity, and the natural wonders are just some of the memories that will be part of the Great Migration Safari. Gondwana Ecotours’ Wildlife Safari in Tanzania visits both the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park, and is thus a great place to catch part of this natural phenomenon, while seeing the best Tanzania has to offer.