The Wildebeest Migration has got to be one of nature’s true wonders and one of the greatest shows on earth. Two and a half million animals playing out their lives in the Serengeti–Mara eco-system. They are watched and followed by every predator that inhabits this vast East African grassland. So what is the best time and where is the best place to watch this, “the greatest show on earth”?
Please disregard any beautiful laid out map that shows the migration going around in an annual circle. It unfortunately does not work like this. It is controlled entirely by the rains and the amount of grazing on the plains. If the wildebeest had a choice they would stay in the short grass plains of the southern Serengeti around the Naabi Hill Gate and Lake Ndutu area, this is where they choose to give birth to their young(December to March) where there is an abundance of rich nutritious grass to support them. In a very short space of time several hundred thousand calves will be born. Predator action at this time, as you could expect, is rather dramatic. But the water and grazing would not support their numbers all year round.
The migration will then move off in search of better grazing, but they will leave this southern Serengeti area as late as possible and return as soon as they can.
Therefore every day, every week and every year could be different. The migration does not happen in a continuously forward motion as it shows in the maps. They go forward, and then it rains behind them, so they turn around, then to the East then to the West. Sometimes they split up, then they join again, they walk in line then they spread out. You will never be able to predict with certainty where they will be. The best you can do is to go on previous years, but even that can never guarantee the migration one hundred percent.
Towards the end of May the rains should abate, and the migration should start moving north and west where there is better grazing and more water; this generally happens as the plains of the south and east dry out. Now not all the animals follow the same route. Some will head to the western corridor and the Grumeti River before heading north, others will head north via the central Serengeti and others will head up through the Loliondo area on the eastern side of the Serengeti. If it's a dry year, the migration could be at the Mara River (the only decent permanent water around) in early July. If it's a wet year, by mid- August.
If the conditions are very good and there is plenty of grazing and water, the migration could be spread out all the way from Seronera to the Masai Mara.
Crossing the Mara River there and back into the Masai Mara carries on through until October/November when they start thinking of returning to the short grass plains of the southern Serengeti. Again this is all dependent on the rains. The river crossings can happen at any point during this time of the year. They are elusive and rapid, but what an unforgettable experience.
Patience is what it takes, as the wildebeest and zebras are very easily spooked. Your patience could produce a dust cloud with them fleeing in the opposite direction, but it could also produce a crossing where you will witness the chaos as wildebeest, zebras and gazelles struggle to get to the other side dodging some of the largest crocodiles in Africa.
From November the Masai Mara starts to dry up and the herds start to move south back to the Ndutu area. Once again this is all dependent on rain as they should head directly south through the Lobo/Loliondo areas. In 2005 they went through the central Serengeti and confused everyone. By the end of December they should have returned to where they “started”; the short grass plains of the southern Serengeti.