The Serengeti forms the backdrop to one of the most breath-taking events in the entire animal kingdom – the annual great wildebeest migration. This is actually a year-long search for food by wildebeest, with accompanying herds of zebra and gazelle. The migration usually follows a clock-wise direction, but is guided by rain and the growth of grass; at any time the animals can ignore tradition and follow the rain clouds.
There are three seasons in the Serengeti: the short rains, long rains and dry season. Usually around about mid-October, just before the short rains of November and December, the large wildebeest and zebra herds leave the Mara in Kenya (near our sister camp at Mara Bushtops) and travel east and south around the Gol Mountains and into the short grass plain of the southern and eastern Serengeti.
During the short rains, pregnant females often migrate through the central Serengeti to the southern plains to begin calving, as their milk benefits from grass high in calcium and magnesium. Wildebeest calving can begin any time between January and March. More than 750,000 females will drop their calves within a three week period, so predator/prey activity is at a peak.
April is usually the month of long rain, meaning heavier, longer downpours. The herd usually begins to move to the central Serengeti, preparing for the wildebeest rut in May and June. This creates some of the most amazing herd sightings, as male and females herds reunite for breeding. The herd movement continues west and north between May and (usually) the end of July, when the herd disperses: males without females may migrate directly north to the Mara, but some remain in the Western Corridor, staying put for the rest of the year.
The majority of the herd then leave the Serengeti by the end of July, if rains are normal.
The dry season of July-October remains excellent for game viewing, particularly as big cats prey on the large herds which can still be seen in the northern Serengeti along the Mara River. Cat viewing can actually be at its best during the dry season, since they have to stay active during the daytime in the search for dwindling food.
As for witnessing the famous wildebeest river crossings, these usually occur between June and November. Herds often cross into the Mara, then return to the Serengeti before once more moving back to the Mara during this period. No one can predict exactly when or where, but equally, no one is better placed than us at Serengeti Bushtops: if it happens while you are with us, we’ll do all in our power to get you a ringside seat.
Find out the latest updates on this year’s wildebeest migration on our blog.
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