People from all over the world come to Tanzania for its world-famous national parks, which offer the opportunity to spot the Big 5 up close in their natural habitat. Although the country is a year-round destination, the summer months from June to August see the Great Migration bring the Serengeti to life in awe-inspiring ways
The Great Migration of wildebeest and zebra across the plains of East Africa is often billed as the world’s greatest wildlife spectacle. And anyone who has experienced this ancient movement of animals sweeping across the plains will agree!
Nowhere else on Earth can one witness over a million wildebeest complete a circuit of almost 2,000 kilometres across Tanzania and Kenya on the eastern belt of the African continent. One of the last intact wildlife migrations on the planet, it is not to be missed. The sound of thousands of hooves beating down the savannahs is electrifying as the animals are locked in a unanimous race to get to the other side. And while most people travel to the country to tick the Big 5 off their bucket lists, it's these white-bearded wildebeests that are the unsung heroes of the grasslands, who hold the ecosystem together with their yearly dance.
The Great Migration is a year-round phenomenon, which sees these majestic herds traversing the plains in a clockwise pattern through the Serengeti and Masai Mara as they follow the rains. From December to April, wildebeest can be typically found on the Ndutu plains in the southern Serengeti, where female antelopes are seen birthing and feeding their young ones. Around half a million calves are born each year, and while the mothers do their best to get them on their feet immediately, not all will be equipped to make the arduous journey that lies ahead.
In April and May, as the southern plains begin to dry out, the rich petrichor – the scent of the warm, earthy soil after the first drops of rain – indicates that it's time to move towards the Serengeti's western corridor. It's the first signs of migration in Tanzania as hundreds of thousands of wildebeest prepare to cross the western plains and finally head north, adjacent to the Mbalagweti river.
The most dramatic crossing of them all is the Grumeti river, which takes place in July and August. It is one of the herd's greatest obstacles as it is in and along these waters that Nile crocodiles and other vicious predators – aware of their patterns – lie in wait. Coming together as a mega heard, knowing there's safety in numbers, the wildebeest and zebra brave the currents to make their way north to the fresh grasses of the Masai Mara. Yet, only the strongest survive as several fall prey to predator attacks.
Now in Kenya, the herd moves through the Masai Mara during the months of September and October, before the November rains begin to lure them back to the southern plains of the Serengeti to repeat this cycle.
For lovers of African safaris, the Great Migration is a spectacular time to be in Tanzania as it offers the chance to witness up-close this epic tour that has been taking place for over 100,000 years. Rapid development and human habitation has caused many such migratory movements to collapse globally, but the wildebeest remain a formidable force in Africa's eastern corridor, never ceasing to take on their trek year after year in relentless pursuit of fresh, new grass and the rains.
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