The Serengeti is famed for its annual migration when more than 1,500,000 wildebeest and 500,000 Thomson Gazelle follow some 200,000 zebra in a 2,000 km round pilgrimage in search of fresh grazing and water. It is “the greatest wildlife show on earth” and “a once in a lifetime experience!”
Wildebeest feed only on new shoots and very short grass but do, of course, eat the longer grass once it has been ‘trimmed’ by zebra or buffalo. It is for this reason they follow the zebra. Eland and Thomson’s gazelle also migrate but instead of following the main migration they just alternate between the plains and the woodlands. Grant’s gazelle do not migrate as they are not so dependent on water. They move only locally and, in many cases, in the opposite direction to the migratory species.
Predator versus prey dominates the migration. Lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena and a host of other, smaller predators, watched by the ever-present vultures, gorge on their annual feast while, in the rivers, giant crocodile wait their turn. The best time to see the migration is between June and August when the wildebeest congregate and prepare to cross the Grumeti River. However, both the route and timing of the migration are unpredictable so visitors must plan carefully to be assured of seeing the spectacle.
During December to May the animals are found on the short grass plains around Lake Ndutu, the Gol Mountains and the Moru Kopjes in the south of the park. December is a peak month for zebra foaling and February the main month for wildebeest calving. Then the migrations start as vast herds, in columns over 40 km long, head north towards Kirawira and Mbalageti, in the Western Corridor, before crossing the crocodile infested Grumeti River into the Grumeti Game Reserve and the Ikorongo Wildlife Management Area. Meanwhile some smaller herds move directly north through the Seronera area, while others travel up the eastern boundary of the park through the Loliondo and Lobo areas.
All routes eventually crossing the Mara River, where the animals face another life threatening experience, into Kenya’s Masai Mara. Finally, in November, the herds start their trek back through the Serengeti arriving at the short grass plains ready to give birth again. And so the cycle continues! As it has for over a million years!