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All You Need to Know About the Great Wildebeest Migration

Thousands of hooves trample across the soft grass between the Serengeti and the Masai Mara in pursuit of rainfall. Walking for days on a quest for fresh grazing, water and a birthing haven for wildebeest, zebras and other animals taking part of The Wildebeest Migration.

The Wildebeest Migration is a hotspot for tourists as they eagerly await the sight of thousands of wildebeest, zebras and gazelles to cross the river, following the rains.

Animals taking part in the Migration

The Wildebeest

The mighty wildebeest or “wild beast” earned its name because of its menacing appearance consisting of a large head, pointed beard, and sharp horns.

The wildebeest is a mammal which forms part of the antelope family. Wildebeest, also known as Gnu, can be found in the central, southern and eastern parts of Africa and prefer green plains and open woodlands.

Despite being targeted by numerous predators daily, the wildebeest population remains high and unaffected.

The Zebra

Although the zebra similarly looks like a horse with striped pyjamas, it’s part of the Equidae family allowing them to evolve separately.

Zebras are notorious for the stripes decorating most parts of their bodies. Interestingly, these stripes aren’t just there to look pretty, they have a purpose. The stripes are there for protection to make it difficult for predators to distinguish one zebra from another.

When the dry seasons approach, zebras travel great distances to find food and water.

The African Gazelle

Gazelles are part of the antelope family, with slender limbs and long necks. Their bodies consist of a tan colour, a white belly and a dark coloured stripe along the side of its body.

These mammals feed in herds on the grasslands, often near zebras and wildebeest to stay safe from predators.

Why These Animals Migrate Together

A wildebeest, zebra and gazelle seem like an odd combination of animals to migrate together, but there is a purpose for this ridiculous scenario.

There are two main reasons these animals migrate together:

1. Food

These animals can migrate together in harmony because each eats a different part of the same grass. Wildebeest stick with eating shorter grass, while the zebras love eating the taller grass.

2. Safety in Numbers

Another reason? Safety in numbers. Being out in the open for a while can allow predators to easily hunt these animals. So if they’re in one big herd, it makes it a little bit harder for predators to snatch up their food.

The River Crossing

During early July, the herds of animals start arriving at the banks of the Mara and Grumeti Rivers. Thousands of them shuffle around waiting for their turn to cross the river with the rest of their groups.

Wildebeest, zebras and gazelles need to cross the river for the fresh grazing waiting for them in the Masai Mara.

They hesitantly gaze at the murky brown water because the river is home to one of Africa’s largest and most feared predators – the Nile Crocodile.

Slowly the herd descends into the water, making their way through dangerous territory. A few lose their lives to the crocodiles lying in wait, but thousands of wildebeest, zebras and gazelles make it across to their destination.

Not only is the water a concern for these groups, but the event attracts other predators to the scene as well. Lions, hyenas and cheetahs also wait patiently for their prey to cross over onto land.

Overview of the Migration Pattern

December to March

During the months of December through to March, the endless plains of the southern Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater are inhabited by enormous herds of wildebeest, zebra and other animals.

Calving season (late January through to mid-March) in the southern Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater attracts many predators such as lions, hyenas and cheetahs. This is a great time for game viewing in the open short grass plains of the Serengeti as dozens of calves are born each day and predators can be seen in the plenty on these calving grounds waiting for their meal opportunity.

April to June

During April and May, the migration moves away from the depleted short-grass plains of the southern Serengeti and heads north to the long-grass plains of the Serengeti’s Western Corridor, almost to Lake Victoria. This period marks the long rainy season and the migration moves west as they graze the plains of the Serengeti. By the end of May, the migration has exhausted the Western Corridor’s best pastures and the herds start to move north, where mating begins to take place mid-June.

July to November

Around July or August, the migration starts to cross the Mara River and this constitutes for spectacular river crossings. Sometimes the crossing place they have chosen is shallow, only allowing the majority of animals to pass safely. In other areas, the waters boil with drowning wildebeest and slashing crocodiles.

The migration resides in the Masai Mara until October before the arrival of the short rains in the southern Serengeti call the migration southwards.

As November ends the migration is making its way back to the southern Serengeti and early in the year they once again give birth. The circle of life is complete.

The best time to see the migration is between June and August when the wildebeest prepare to cross the famous Grumeti River and head into the Masai Mara.

Would You Like to Experience The Migration Yourself?

Being one of nature’s greatest spectacles, the Great Wildebeest Migration is an experience that must be added to any traveller’s bucket list. If you’re keen on experiencing the migration yourself, have a look at our tours on africatravelco.com or simply get in touch with our team.

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