East Africa’s annual wildebeest migration is an unmatched wildlife spectacle. This Great Migration through the Serengeti and Masai Mara is an ancient cycle triggered by seasonal rainfall and the growth of sweet new grasses, which sets these mega herds in perpetual motion.
While there is a typical annual movement pattern, each month of the year offers something different to see in terms of migratory movements, predator interactions, river crossings, weather and wildlife. Depending on your specific area of interest, you can plan your East Africa trip to get the most out of your safari experience. Check out our guide to help you plan the timing of your dream East Africa safari.
The wildebeest herds wait for the first Serengeti rains, and their movement depends on when the rains arrive in the southern plains. This triggers a swift migration, as with the rains comes the new growth of the nutrient-rich sweet grass that will sustain the pregnant females through calving and lactating. Movement is rapid, and the herds can move from Lobo in the north to Ndutu in the south in just a few days.
February heralds calving season in the Serengeti. This is your chance to witness wildebeest, zebra and other migratory animals give birth to their offspring. Predator interaction is also very likely, as lion and leopard move into the region to prey on young and vulnerable calves. Base yourself close to the Ndutu area for optimal viewing.
March is often a wet month, with the massive herds feeding on the lush, green grasslands. They move slowly as most calves are just one month old. Expect to see big cats in action as lion and leopard prey on these youngsters. A mobile camp in the Serengeti gets you a front-row seat to astonishing sightings.
The Serengeti green season starts during April’s long rains (April to June, but most rain falls at night, leaving days relatively clear). The wildebeest and zebra herds start to pick up the pace as their calves and foals get stronger. As the herds pass through the Simba Kopjes region – famous for its lion population – you can expect some serious big cat action.
The rainy season is in full swing and the herds move fast to Serengeti’s western corridor. The youngsters are stronger and also feed less frequently, so ever-greater distances can be covered daily. Excellent photo opportunities abound with vast numbers of wildebeest and zebra moving rapidly.
The end of the rainy season leaves the grassland plains green and lush. Distances between leading and trailing herds are extensive allowing for long and rewarding game drives. Traditionally, June is the Grumeti River crossing period, although this does depend on the water levels in the river.
With the approaching dry season, the Serengeti landscape becomes more arid. This is mating season, and the massive wildebeest herds begin moving faster in search of water and greener grass, making their way across the Grumeti and Mara rivers. Nile crocodiles find easy pickings during these high-drama times.
August sees the wildebeest herds crossing the crocodile-infested waters of the Mara River in the Serengeti or Masai Mara in a constant search for green grass. Mobile safari camps put you in the very best position to see these high-adrenaline river crossings right up close.
The dry season continues in September, and you can see the tail end of the epic Mara River crossings in the Serengeti or Masai Mara. Most of the herds are now feeding on the lush grasslands in the Greater Masai Mara area.
And they’re off again: October sees the wildebeest herds in the Masai Mara begin to slowly migrate back into the Serengeti, moving through Loliondo in the east. Base yourself in the Masai Mara for your best viewing opportunities this month.
The early rains start to fall in the Serengeti in cooler November, and the wildebeest herds are drawn to the abundant water of the Serengeti’s Lobo, Mbuze Mawe and Seronera Valley areas. The southeastern part of the Masai Mara and northeastern Serengeti offer the best viewing right now.
This is the short rains season in the Central Serengeti. As soon as the rains begin, the wildebeest herds will rapidly move as far south as possible in their inexorable migration in search of sweet, nourishing grasses and to prepare for the arrival of the next generation.
To plan the Great Migration safari experience of a lifetime, please chat to us. We’ll give you expert advice for the best viewing times, exclusive nomadic mobile safari camps and prime areas to visit.