Assembled from the wreckage of all the other plains species and known as ‘the clown of the plains’ by many aficionados, ‘wildebeest’ (wild animal) by the Afrikaners, or ‘food’ by lions, the wildebeest is one of Africa’s most charismatic creatures.
It is a disparate collection of ill matched parts that has the appearance of an evolutionary calamity. That said, the wildebeest is also one of the most successful as well, with healthy populations across the continent especially in the Serengeti ecosystem that straddles the Kenya / Tanzania border. It is here in the wide rolling grasslands where the Masai made their home that the wildebeest has found its ideal habitat.
The Setting (see Migration Map here)
The combination of reasonably good rains, good soil for grass growth and a year round supply of water means that this region is superb for most species, and especially for the wildebeest which is a grazer.
Since the conditions suit the wildebeest so well it has long been a populous species across much of the region with various migrations taking place throughout the year in different places, and at different times.
The famous one occurs in the Serengeti ecosystem where herds that may be approaching two million head wander between the southernmost parts of the Serengeti National Park, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and the Masai Mara away to the north. The migration here follows a vague pattern year by year which tends to be dictated or influenced by rainfall and food availability.
The herds congregate on the short grass plains in the south just after Christmas to give birth and then make their way haphazardly towards the north via the west of the ecosystem towards Lake Victoria. During the journey they may travel 40 miles in one day in a particular direction and then do the same in the opposite direction the following day. This is often the case during the rainy season when thunderstorms may be very localised but also quite heavy.
Time of Year
Essentially, the best times of year for visitors to see this amazing collection of beasts are during the birthing from January to March and during our summer from July to October. These two periods coincide with the dry seasons in East Africa, making them climatically ideal for a visit.
The herds are also accessible from a number of superb safari camps at these times of year.
In the southern parts of the Serengeti ecosystem it’s possible to stay at a number of very good semi mobile tented camps such as Olakira, Serengeti Safari Camp and Dunia Camp which are all traditional in style, small and authentic in flavour, and very comfortable.
The southern Serengeti also works well when combined with camps in the Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara.
The north of Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park is good between July and October, with camps like Serengeti Safari Camp and Sayari providing superb tented accommodation and excellent guides. The region can be combined with Tarangire at this time of year when this park is also full with its own migration of elephant, buffalo, eland, and other plains species.
The Masai Mara in Kenya is perhaps the finest place on earth to see a concentration of wildlife. The migrant herds cross the Mara River into this small corner of the country at varying times between June and August, but once they are there the sheer density of animals is astonishing.
This time of year is also the best for witnessing the tension and excitement of the famous river crossings when some of the massive and ancient crocodiles that live in the rivers wait for the unwary to enter the water. Camps such as Rekero and Sala’s are ideally located overlooking the rivers allowing guests to witness the action from the comfort of the camp. Other great camps in the area include Offbeat Mara, Serian, Kicheche and Kicheche Bush Camp, all of which offer simple, authentic tented accommodation in wonderful locations.
The Masai Mara combines superbly with many amazing lodges in other parts of Kenya allowing guests to enjoy the wilderness without too many rules and regulations, and to do many different adventure activities.