Private Safaris in Tanzania
The Great Migration in Tanzania
The Great Migration – the largest animal migration in the world.
The Serengeti, a tree-poor savannah in northern Tanzania, extends over some 30,000 km² from the eastern foothills of Lake Victoria into the Masai Mara in Kenya. The Serengeti is one of the most spectacular natural areas on earth and the eponymous Serengeti National Park is world famous.
The different regions of the Serengeti are sometimes quite different from each other. While the south is dominated by vast grassy steppes with occasional trees, the central part is a flat savannah with almost no trees at all. The further north you go, the more hilly it becomes, here the so-called Kopjes dominate, granite rocks of volcanic origin formed millions and millions of years ago, and there are clearly more trees. For the entire Serengeti, however, the average rainfall is only about 300 to 1,000 mm, depending on the year, and life in the savannah is a constant search for water and pasture for the herds.
The struggle for survival in the Serengeti has produced one of the most spectacular natural phenomena – the Great Migration. In search of water and pasture, millions of wildebeest, zebra, and other herd animals traverse the entire Serengeti from the south northward to the Masai Mara region in Kenya and back again each year, instinctively following the rain.
The Great Migration, which spans Tanzania and Kenya, is the largest animal migration on our planet and one of the most impressive natural events ever – an absolute “once in a lifetime” experience!
The participants of the Great Migration
The migration is primarily the migration of the wildebeest, pictures and videos of their death-defying river crossings are world famous. Their numbers are enormous, with about 1.7 million wildebeest alone taking part in the Great Migration. They are accompanied by over 250,000 zebras and various gazelles (Grant’s gazelle, Thomson’s gazelle, Eland antelope, impala), which together number about 500,000.
On the dangerous journey of about 800 km, about 250,000 wildebeests meet their deaths every year – they fall victim to hunger, thirst, exhaustion and, of course, predators.
The Great Migration as a destination
Due to the fact that the migration follows the same pattern every year and distinctive points, such as river crossing points, are the same year after year, the Great Migration is a quite observable phenomenon that gives many safari travelers in Tanzania and Kenya unforgettable experiences every year – those who once lay in their tent while thousands of wildebeest migrate through the camp know what we are talking about!
The safari industry has long been geared up for this, with many lodges and camps strategically built on the migration route and game drives to prominent crossing points on the Mara or Grumeti Rivers. The adventurous can also tour the mobile camps that follow the entire course of the migration. Although the itinerary is relatively predictable, the schedule is entirely dependent on the occurrence of rain and thus relatively unpredictable. If it rains a lot, the trip is delayed because there are more lush pastures and the rivers are longer too deep to cross.
In extremely dry years, the huge herds are forced to split up to search for water and grass in small groups. The animals are then extremely scattered and do not reunite until the rains arrive, when the journey north can continue.
So a successful Serengeti safari on the tracks of migration needs two things above all, good planning and a certain flexibility – we are happy to help you with that!
The Great Migration - month by month in detail
The Great Migration – As a rough guideline, the Great Migration begins from January to April in the south of the Serengeti in Tanzania and ends around November in the far north in the Masai Mara in Kenya, before the animals make their arduous return journey.
Below is a detailed overview of each month of the year:
Despite the dry season, the vast grasslands in the south of the Serengeti are still green and lush thanks to the past rainy season. Here, in the southern plains is the nursery of the savannah animals, and the wildebeest and zebra gather to have their young then in February.
Although high grass is generally a hindrance to animal observation, the unique view into the nursery compensates – if you look a little closer, you can observe newborn wildebeest and zebra and take home impressions for a lifetime.
The large herds of wildebeest and zebra are still in the grass plains of the southern Serengeti: in the Ndutu region, southeast of Seronera and north of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Now, most of the wildebeest calves are born – about 500,00 in a period of only two to three weeks. The animals will stay on the plains until about March, as long as the grass is green and lush.
March marks the beginning of the big rainy season – just in time, because the southern plains are now as good as grazed. Also the young are now already safely on their feet and strong enough to start the big journey.
As soon as there is enough water (usually around the end of the month), the animals slowly start their migration towards the north.
There is usually no shortage of water in April, as the rainy season is at its peak and it rains about 15 days of the month. The central savannah of the Serengeti has turned into a green paradise and the wildebeests, zebras and gazelles thus have enough food available. If the herds have not started moving by the end of March, they begin their journey north now.
The Great Migration is now in full swing and the animals move through the Western Corridor of the Serengeti, finding pastures in the Moru Kopjes region and west of Seronera. Later in the month, the rains end and the herds leave the Seronera plains and advance into the Grumeti River region.
The beginning of the dry season brings the best safari conditions with plenty of sunshine and clear skies, at the latest in the second half of the month. The migration stays in the Grumeti region until about the end of June, and (depending on the water level) still in June or not until July they start crossing the river, where they plunge into the floods despite the crocodiles already expecting them. The density of wildebeest can get extremely high before they finally dare to cross – if an animal makes the first move, there is no stopping them.
At the latest now the region around Seronera and south of the Grumeti is grazed and the water level of the Grumeti is low enough for a crossing due to the dry season. If this has not yet taken place in June, now is the time. The crossing of the Grumeti is the first of two river crossings where the animals, pumped full of adrenaline, plunge into the water to get past the crocodiles to the other bank. After the successful crossing, the hike continues northward.
Due to the ongoing drought, all green has disappeared again from the central Serengeti and the remaining waterholes are now of enormous importance. Depending on how much water is available, this is how far the journey north has progressed. While sometimes the herd reaches Kenya already at the end of August, in extremely dry years it is forced to split up into widely scattered groups in Tanzania, so that instead of the huge ones one finds many smaller herds, some in the regions around Grumeti and in Ikorongo, others much further north towards Masai Mara.
The wildebeest and zebra have now arrived in the northern Serengeti at the latest, where they meet their biggest obstacle on their way from Tanzania to Kenya to the Masai Mara, the Mara River. The crossing of this river is considered even more spectacular than that of the Grumeti and again the crocodiles are already waiting for prey. At about ten “crossing points” this exciting and impressive event can be observed.
After this last survived danger the Great Migration has reached the grazing areas of the Masai Mara, where the animals stay until the end of the dry season.
If the rainy season starts as planned, the first showers occur in October, so that the animals can usually start their migration back to the south towards the end of the month. The exact timing, however, is unpredictable: the second crossing of the Mara River may occur very early, in September, or quite late, even in early November. However, it is far from unusual to have only a few days between the two crossings.
After the animals return to Tanzania, the migration continues via Loliondo and Lobo back to the southern Serengeti, which is reached again in November, just in time for the first fresh grass.
Depending on the season, the wildebeest and zebra are still on their second crossing of the Mara River, already on their way south, or they have already reached the grass plains of the southern Serengeti again.
The large herd is back in the south or arrives there at the latest now. Now the animals have enough time and sufficient food before the cycle starts all over again next year in February with the birth of the young.