The Great Migration is a natural event, and movement of the wildlife can be unpredictable. However the following guide gives you a general idea of what’s going on and where you can find it, on a month-by-month basis.
JANUARY TO FEBRUARY
The beginning of the year sees herds congregate on the edge of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area on the southeastern plains of the Serengeti in North Tanzania.
If the recent December rains have been good, the pastures should be lush and green. Herds feed on the nutrient-rich grasses to build up strength and stamina for the long journey ahead. Wildebeest and zebras graze in harmony, the zebras munch on the longer grasses and clear them so wildebeest can graze on the shorter grasses, which they prefer.
January and February also mark a very special time in the Great Migration calendar: calving season. In this period, around 8,000 wildebeest calves are born each day.
The newborn calves are highly vulnerable and are welcome prey for the watchful predators who wait to pounce while mother wildebeests are distracted by grazing. However, the shorter grasses mean it’s easier to spot approaching predators. Newborns are born with strong survival instincts, and can run as fast as the adults at just two days old.
MARCH TO APRIL
Wildebeest and zebras continue to congregate on the Serengeti plains before gradually moving westwards towards the woodlands of the Western Corridor, where the long rains begin to fall. The rains in this period are particularly heavy and sometimes last right up until June.
This is the least popular time to see the Great Migration. The heavy rainfall makes viewing wildlife particularly difficult, and many of the roads are impassable. The rains also bring an abundance of mosquitoes and a higher risk of malaria for travellers during this period.
MAY TO JUNE
Smaller herds join larger groups and merge into one massive movement. May to June is also mating time for wildebeest.
The migration moves north up the western edge of the Serengeti towards the Grumeti Game Reserve and the first river crossing at the Grumeti River. If you want to witness the first river crossing, June is the best time to visit Tanzania, as this is when it usually occurs.
JULY TO AUGUST
Those who survive the perilous Grumeti River crossing regroup into smaller herds to continue their journey north. In a dry year, the herds begin to arrive in the northern Serengeti at the beginning of July. In a wet year, they may arrive in August.
As the dry season continues, the grasses of the Serengeti begin to turn yellow and the herds head further north towards the Masai Mara in search of wetter, greener pastures.
Before they can cross the border between Tanzania and Kenya to arrive at the Masai Mara National Park, they must face the infamous and perilous mighty Mara River crossing.
Thousands of wildebeest line up along the steep riverbanks that separate the Serengeti from the Masai Mara, ready to take the plunge into the high, turbulent waters of the deep Mara River. Many drown in the fast, racing currents, while others are prey to large, hungry crocodiles.
The crossing is confusing and frantic, as panicked wildebeest desperately try to get to the other side. It’s not something for the faint-hearted, but it’s certainly one of the most dramatic and awe-inspiring sights you’ll ever witness.
Those who make it across must then face the added threat of lions that take advantage of the exhausted and often injured wildebeest making their way to the Masai Mara.
SEPTEMBER TO OCTOBER
The dramatic Mara River crossings continue up until October when most of the herds reach the northernmost point of their journey in the Kenyan Masai Mara Game Reserve.
As the Masai Mara gets hotter and drier towards October, and the first rains begin back down on the Serengeti, the herds begin to make their way back south, once again facing the perils of the river crossings.
NOVEMBER TO DECEMBER
As the rains begin, the weather starts to cool and the herds move southeastwards back towards the Serengeti, where they can graze on the first green grasses of the season. The weather may be unpredictable, but it’s an ideal time to experience the Great Migration as the two seasons merge.
There aren’t as many camps and visitors in this month, but there’s still plenty to see as young lions cubs learn hunting skills and are eager to test them out on the grazing wildebeest and zebras.
December is the most tranquil period of the Great Migration. Heavily pregnant wildebeest and zebras are back on the Serengeti feeding on the lush, sweet grasses of the plains in preparation for calving season in January and February.
The herds spread out and divide into smaller groups and a sense of calm envelopes the area; a short reprieve before the Great Migration cycle starts all over again.