4 epic wildlife migrations – that aren’t the Great Migration

When people talk about ‘the migration’ in Africa, they generally mean the Great Migration in East Africa. Its name is not misleading: witnessing nearly two million wildebeest and thousands of antelope and zebra journeying across the plains and crashing across the Mara River is an awesome sight. But its fame means that there are also hundreds of other people who want to watch the same scenes play out. It’s well worth it, but prices to see the Great Migration are high, availability is tight and wildlife viewings rarely private.

But there are many more, equally magnificent spectacles to take in across the African continent, as animals move in their thousands on seasonal migrations. These are some of our top ‘secret’ migrations where the only crowds you’ll find are those of wild animals on the move.

Wildebeest in Liuwa Plains. Credit: Zambia Tourism / Peter Fernhead.

Featured image: The bat migration in Kasanka National Park. Credit: Gilmour Dickson.

The alternative wildebeest migration

Liuwa Plains National Park, Zambia – November

The second largest wildebeest migration in Africa takes place in Zambia’s Liuwa Plain National Park. As the rains arrive in November, so too do the blue wildebeest, travelling from Angola. The herds number around 45,000 and they are joined by zebra, roan antelope, red lechwe and tsessebe. Naturally this means lions, leopards, cheetahs, wild dogs and hyenas are not far off either, making for some exciting hunting you may be lucky enough to witness.

Wildebeest in Liuwa Plains National Park, Zambia. Credit: Norman Carr Safaris.

The sardine run

Wild Coast, South Africa – May to July

Not really a secret thanks to dozens of documentaries and award-winning wildlife photography, but still an event few people are fortunate enough to witness first-hand, the sardine run takes place between May and July each year. A cold current encourages billions of sardines from the southern coast of South Africa, northwards to the warmer shores of KwaZulu-Natal and Mozambique. By the time they reach the eastern coast, their numbers are so great that they inevitably attract predators: seabirds, dolphins, sharks and whales all join the feeding frenzies. The protective shoals formed by the sardines make for incredible photo and film opportunities. The spectacle is viable from the surface and even from planes; guests of specialised small-group tours can snorkel or dive to witness the dramatic migration.

Sardine run
A sailfish and a sardine shoal. Credit: Alexander Safanov.

The zebra migration

Nxai and Makgadikgadi Pans, Botswana – December to April

Walking what is now thought to be the longest land migration of any animal, thousands of zebras trek between the Chobe River on the border of Namibia and the Nxai salt pan of Botswana, a straight-line journey of around 300 miles (483 kilometres), arriving in the wet season from January to April. A separate migration sees zebras move between the Okavango Delta and the Makgadikgadi Pan, with the herds on the pans from December to March. Stay at camps such as Jack’s Camp or Meno a Kwena to see the zebras in their thousands – and the predators who watch and wait. You can also take advantage of travelling in low season, which means fewer tourists and lower rates.

Camp Kalahari
Visiting the zebra herds on horseback at Camp Kalahari in the Makgadikgadi Pans.

The bat migration

Kasanka National Park, Zambia – October to December

The great bat migration sees around 10 million fruit bats moving into the swamp forests of Kasanka National Park in northern Zambia. It is said to be the largest mammal migration in the world and takes place over 90 days or so, from the end of October to the middle of December. They’ve come from the Congolese forests, arriving with the rains that ripen the fruit on which they feed. You’ll see the bats take flight at sunrise and sunset, when their numbers almost black out the sky.

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