I am often asked "where can I see the wildebeest migration in Africa?", or "when can I see the great migration in Kenya?". It has been called by many the Greatest Show on Earth and is high on the list of many travellers.
The annual wildebeest migration in Kenya and Tanzania occurs anytime of the year but there are times when the animals are more concentrated. Read on to find the best time to see the wildebeest migration as the herds travel around the Serengeti and Masai Mara in search of fresh grass. A handy map follows at the bottom.
Let's catch the cycle shortly after the start of the short rains in late November. The animals arrive in the short-grass plains of the Serengeti, which are located to the south and east of Seronera, around Ndutu as well as the north of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
The animals stay here through January and February, sometimes even as late as March, as they spread out across the plains, feeding on the fresh and rich grass as they move west. During the month of February most calves are born, a time of heightened predator activity. Up to two million wildebeest can be seen in the area at this time.
Around April the animals start their great migration north and by May they will have reached Moru Kopjes and the area west of Seronera, where hundreds of thousands of animals can be seen moving in columns of wildebeest, zebra and gazelles. This is the area where many of the lower-cost lodges are located but because the grass is very high and roads impassable, not the best time to be on safari in the Serengeti.
Around June the migration is halted by the channels of the Grumeti River and the animals congregate in the Western Corridor. The herds mass before they finally crossing the river. In dry years the river is a series of pools and channels and the crossing is relatively safe. In wet years, the herds must cross the river and fall prey to some of Africa's largest crocodiles.
Anytime between July and October they will have spread out into Grumeti Reserve and Ikorongo, the Serengeti and Kenya's Masai Mara and the herds will have reached the Mara River. Hundreds of thousands of animals will congregate on the banks of the river, not quite daring to cross for the crocs in the river. Accommodation in the northern Serengeti consists of mobile tented camp which, while higher in price than the lodges in the south of the park, give a wonderful intimate safari experience, particularly during the month of August. On the Kenyan side there are plenty of lodges to choose from - a lower cost but busier option.
During the month of September, the pressure of animals from the rear becomes too great and the grass on the other bank of the Mara too green to ignore. This is when they cross and where the famous photographs are taken of the herds crossing in panic and confusion as they are being attacked by crocodiles. As the rains shift from east to west, the herds may cross the river several times, following the life-giving rain and the green grass it nurtures.
Mid to late October the herds start to move south once again, in one concerted movement. Within a few weeks they move through western Loliondo and the Serengeti's Lobo area, back to the short-grass plains of the southern Serengeti, where they will have arrived by December.
The circle of life is now complete - but remember we are dealing with nature here. What sounds like a pretty straight-forward cycle is in effect a chaotic movement back and forth and sideways, a milling about of hundreds of thousands of animals, whose movements are dictated by the availability of water and food. And this changes from year to year, month to month and even week to week.
Then again, that is the beauty of nature!