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Wildebeest Migration: The Complete Guide

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Would you like to see one of the fascinating natural phenomena of our time? Then follow the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti with this complete guide. A unique spectacle.

An African legend says that God assembled the wildebeest from leftover parts. That sounds harsh. But personally, I think that their slightly odd look just makes them endearing.

Of course, they are not the beautiest of all animals of the Serengeti, but imagine, wildebeests as far as the eye can see in the Savannah landscape? That’s pretty cool. Apart from Wildebeests we are certain that you are interested in knowing more about the big 5 in Africa. We gathered the Best places to see the Big 5 or All about Africa for you!

Key Points:

Wildebeest MigrationAnnual migration of wildebeests, zebras, and gazelles
Wildebeest Migration FactsOver 1 million wildebeests, 2 million animals total
Migration RouteVaries each year, approximately 3,000 kilometers
Migration CalendarDecember to November: Journey through different locations
Wildebeest CharacteristicsShoulder height: 4-5 feet, Length: 8-11.5 feet, Weight: 330-550 pounds
Climate Change ImpactChanging seasons affect migration cycle and route
Dangers during MigrationHunger, thirst, predation, challenging river crossings
Booking SafariVarious operators offer wildebeest migration safaris
Best Time to VisitJune to September for the most spectacular parts of the migration

The fact that the wildebeest of the Serengeti are still circling in millions today like they have done for ages, is a phenomenon. 

In this article, you learn about the famous Wildebeest Migration. You can read the whole article from the beginning or jump straight to the most relevant chapter for you:

What is the Wildebeest Migration? 

Their migration is one of the largest ungulates on earth. And they are not alone, around 400,000 antelopes and 200,000 zebras join them. A journey of around 3,000 kilometer. 

wildebeest river crossing
Wildebeest River Crossing

Wildebeests eat almost exclusively grass, and when a grazing ground is eaten, they move on. 

They follow an eternal cycle. 

Quick Facts on Wildebeest Migration

  • In total, more than two million animals move during the wildebeest migration Serengeti: more than one million wildebeests and hundreds of thousands of zebras and Thomson’s gazelle.
  • In January / February more than 500,000 wildebeests are born, about 8,000 per day.
  • Each animal travels a thousand kilometres during migration.
  • Wildebeests and zebras need each other during the migration: wildebeests are good at finding water sources and zebras know the way of the migration.
  • Wildebeests and zebras can travel together peacefully because they both eat a different part of the same grass.
  • Every year, almost 250,000 wildebeests and 30,000 zebras die during the strenuous and dangerous migration.

Getting to Know the Wildebeest

Shoulder height4 – 5 feet
Length8 – 11,5 feet
Weight330 – 550 pounds
DietHerbivorous, primarily grasses
Conservation StatusLeast Concern (IUCN)
HabitatGrasslands, savannas, open woodlands
Geographic RangeEastern and Southern Africa
Population SizeApproximately 1.5 million individuals

When is the Wildebeest Migration? 

In February and partly in March the wildebeest find rest and give birth to their calves in the in the grassy plains of the highlands of Tanzania. Around half a million calves are born within a few weeks. 

Migration Map
Migration Map

In April the animals follow the rain and move to the west of the Serengeti and then they migrate step by step  northwards through the centre of the Serengeti towards the lush ground in the Masai Mara in southern Kenya. 

At the end of the year, with the beginning of the rainy season, it goes back again to the highlands of Tanzania. 

Every wildebeest migration is different

The route of the animals varies every year and is therefore impossible to predict. The Serengeti is also a vast area, so herds are sometimes difficult to find. 

So seeing the Great Migration is partly a matter of luck. A good safari guide is also essential.

Wildebeest Migration Monthly Calendar

DecemberMara/ Loliondo, TanzaniaRain starts. Migrations leaves the Mara, down to the Loliondo. Grass is fresh and Green.
JanuarySouthern Plains, TanzaniaMoving to the short grass of the southern plains, Ngorongoro Crater. Game grows, Zebras start to foal.
FebruarySerengeti Plains, TanzaniaMore than 2 million Zebras, Wildebeest, Gazelles and Elands are in the plains. Predators start to raise. Foal dropping time for the Wildebeest.
MarchSerengeti Plains, TanzaniaHeavy rains are starting.
AprilNorthern Plains, TanzaniaSlowly start of the migration towards the western corridor as strong rains set in.
MayMbalageti River, TanzaniaThe migration moves along the Mbalageti river to the Grumeti. 
JuneGrumeti, TanzaniaStart of the dry season. Crocodiles in the Grumeti Area start to hunt Wildebeests. 
JulyNorth East Grumeti, TanzaniaMigration moves towards the Ikorongo or Lobo area, north east through the Grumeti.
AugustIkorongo Area, TanzaniaMajority of the migration crosses the Mara.
SeptemberMaasai Mara, KenyaThe migration continues to the Mara, to Kenya, in search of food and water. 
OctoberMaasai Mara, KenyaEnd of the dry season in the Serengeti, fresh water in the Maasai Mara. 
NovemberSerengeti Plains, TanzaniaMigration moves back south as a new cycle starts with the rains. 

Where is the Wildebeest Migration?

The hike is periodically clockwise between the pastures of the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Masai Mara Reserve in Kenya – a distance of almost 3,000 km.

Main Locations of the Wildebeest Migration

  • Serengeti, Tanzania
  • Maasai Mara, Kenya

The Serengeti and Masai Mara belong to the same ecosystem. The animals, however, naturally know no national borders and move to those places where they find food and water.

They often migrate in groups of up to several thousand animals, which travel together along the migration route. However, it is also quite normal that some groups deviate from the “normal” route.

What is a Wildebeest (Gnu)?

When you think of antelopes, you usually see small, slender animals. Like the lightning-fast Thomson’s gazelle, for example. But also the big, strong wildebeests belong to the antelopes.

Wildebeest Fight
Wildebeest Fight

Wildebeests form large herds in which several thousand to one hundred thousand animals live. In the community they have a greater chance of survival.

For example, if they want to cross a large river where crocodiles live. The more animals swim across together, the more difficult it becomes for the crocodiles to clearly recognize a single animal and to snap at it.

In many animals there is a big difference between male and female animals. For example, the male is often larger and more colourful, but sometimes also the female. With the wildebeest it is different.

You can hardly see any difference, because both males and females are similar in size and carry both horns. But there is a trick to distinguish the animals: The forehead of the males is usually black, in females it’s a rusty colour.

But what makes them go on this long adventure? They follow the rain, the fresh grass. Studies show that wildebeests can locate precipitation from 50 kilometres away. Do they follow lightning or clouds? Do they hear the thunder? Do they smell the water?

Scientists have not yet found the answer. But not only the wildebeest, the entire ecosystem benefits from their migration: they produce 420 tons of dung per day. This fertiliser and the grazing of the grass allows the vegetation to grow faster.

Impact of Climate Change

The wildebeest migration is also an example of how animals live together peacefully and complement each other: Wildebeests are good at finding water sources and zebras know the way of the hike in both eat a different part of the same grass.

Wildebeest Baby
Wildebeest Baby

However, the influence of changing rainy and dry seasons sometimes change the cycle by several weeks. The route ist also changing a little bit each year.

A Journey with Many Dangers

The great migration is a continuous process that returns every year. However, not without danger! 

Wildebeest Killed by Lion
Wildebeest Killed by Lion

Every year many thousands wildebeest and zebras die during the strenuous and dangerous migration because of hunger, thirst, weakness or predators like lions, cheetahs or hyenas, who are on the trail of the herd. 

A crucial point is the crossing of the river Mara in the east of the Serengeti. The bank is steep, the current strong. There are also crocodiles lurking in the water, the biggest in the world. Not seldom panic breaks out among the animals.

Humans are also a danger. On one side by poaching. On the other side by cutting down the forests and through farmers use the land for agriculture and irrigate it artificially. 

The rivers carries less and less water. The wildebeest grazing grounds are becoming drier and cattle are grazing them.

Best Places to Book your Wildebeest Migration Safari

Multiple operators are offering amazing Wildebeest Migration Safaris.

Wildebeest from above
Wildebeest from Above

Here are the most reliable ones (Rated on Google Maps and Trip Advisor):

Kenya Safaris

  1. Kenya Bush Safaris
  2. Perfect Wilderness Tours
  3. Bencia Africa Safari
  4. Dala Safari
  5. Simba Paka Safaris

Tanzania Safaris

  1. Serengeti Safari 
  2. Wildebeest Safaris
  3. Adventure Backpackers
  4. Africa Sky

Best Time to Visit the Serengeti

If you want to see the most spectacular part of the Great Trek, it is best to travel to the north of the Serengeti or to Masai Mara during the period from June to September. 

The days of travel in the north of the Serengeti are long, so it is recommended to stay for a few days in one of the mobile camps. This increases your chances of seeing the crossing.

Best travel time optimal safari conditions, births of the wildebeest babies
Best travel time optimal safari conditions, herds in the south
End of the dry season still very good conditions, herds migrate to the west
rainy season difficult for safaris, some lodges closed
rainy season difficult for safaris, some lodges closed
Best travel time ideal for Great Migration in the Western Corridor
Best travel time Herds moving north towards Kenya
August Best travel time Herds reach the border of the Masai Mara September Best travel time landscape very dry, ideal for safaris October Good travel time dust-dry, animals at the few water points November Little rainy season Safaris still possible, minor restrictions DecemberLittle rainy seasonnevertheless mostly ideal conditions

If you would like to experience the wildebeest’s annual baby boom, January / February is a great time to travel to the south of the Serengeti.

Best Time to Visit Maasai Mara

The climate in the Masai Mara is determined by its location in the Kenyan highlands and by the occurrence of two rainy and dry seasons. Although you’ll have an amazing time whenever you go, I can highly recommend going when it’s not rainy season as this might restrict your activities (and who likes getting wet?)

Best travel time Optimal climate in Masai Mara
Best travel time Optimal climate in Masai Mara
Start of the rainy season as early as mid-March
Great rainy season Safaris are nevertheless mostly possible
Great rainy season Safaris are nevertheless mostly possible
Start of dry season close vegetation
Best travel time mostly beginning of the great migration of herds
Best travel time mostly ideal for Great Migration
Best travel time mostly ideal for Great Migration
Best travel time End of the dry season
Little rainy season Safaris are nevertheless mostly possible
Little rainy season Safaris are nevertheless mostly possible

Dry season in this case does not mean that there is no rainfall at all (as for example in some areas of South Africa), it is just much less frequent than during the rainy season.

The big rainy season in Kenya starts around the end of March and lasts until the end of May. A second, smaller rainy season is usually in the period from early November to mid-December, although there may be shifts as usual. 

Rainy season in Kenya usually means only short, sudden but very productive showers. Safaris are usually still possible at this time.

Follow the Wildebeest Migration

Thousands of tourists visit the migration every year. No wonder, the view is unique. Animals up to the horizon.

YouTube video

If you want to know on which region the wildebeest are currently are, you can follow it on the website discoverafrica, who provides an App with photos, videos and information about their wildlife observations. 

The whereabouts of the herds are marked on Google Maps.

Do you enjoy reading about Wildlife?

Another spectacular natural event which we totally recommend and you might not have heard of is the Sardine Run. Go and check it out!

We also have more articles on the beauty of Mammals or learn about Antelopes.

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