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The WOW factor

Discover the Great Annual Migration

Clive Wedderburn November 14, 2016

If the sole purpose of your travels is to witness amazing wildlife encounters, then the Great Annual Migration will surely top your bucket list. Imagine 1.8 million animals locked in the eternal struggle of survival, in a World Cup tournament of the wildlife world. On one side you have the ‘ungulates’ (hoofed mammals) including the king of the herbivores, approximately 1.5 million wildebeest, aided and abetted by 400,000 Thomson gazelles, 300,000 zebra and 12, 000 eland. 

On the opposing team are the predators comprising of stealthy, ravenous, chasing packs of lions, cheetahs, leopards, hyenas and crocodiles.

In a battle that has raged for millions of years, here are some interesting facts concerning the greatest wildlife spectacle on Earth. 

  1. The Serengeti and Masai Mara form one of the greatest eco-systems on the planet, hosting the largest mammal migration in the world.
  2. The Great Annual Migration (GAM) is a circular route that covers a distance of 1800 miles – the same distance from London to Tenerife -from London to Tenerife) rotating clockwise across the plains of both the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Masai Mara in Kenya.
  3. The GAM is not as haphazard as it might seem. Wildebeest possess what is known as ‘swarm intelligence’ where they systematically explore and overcome each obstacle as one entity.
  4. Zebra and wildebeest exist in harmony during the migration because they eat different parts of the same grass plant.
  5. Wildebeest are made up of two species believed to have split from a common ancestor over a million years ago. The most common is the western white-bearded wildebeest. 
  6. In the late nineteenth century the rinderpest virus, introduced by Italian army cattle, killed almost 90% of the buffalo, antelope and wildebeest of the region.
  7. The Serengeti provides a habitat for the migrating animals that is enriched by a fertile layer of volcanic soil, with grasses rich in calcium and phosphorus producing foliage abundant during the rainy seasons.
  8. Wildebeest manure is also packed with nutrients and is recycled by millions of dung beetle. Wildebeest are important to the plains’ ecosystem. Their dung fertilises the earth while their trampling hooves encourage new growth.

  1. Wildebeest can run as fast as 40 miles per hour to evade their predators. Lions have a top speed of 50 miles per hour, while cheetahs can run at70 miles per hour.
  2. Wildebeest calves can gain their feet in a little under three minutes of being born, being able to move with the herd almost immediately to even outrun lionesses.
  3. Although wildebeest are tied to migratory patterns their carnivore hunters, hyenas, cheetahs and lions, are hindered by boundaries of their territory; meaning, they are prevented from following the herds wherever they go for fear of trespassing or losing their own territories.
  4. Approximately 300,000 zebra and wildebeest die on the migration route from predator kills or starvation and thirst every year.
  5. The wildebeest have no natural leader but are instead split into mega-herds and smaller herds that cover over half of the Serengeti.

Where to stay during the Great Annual Migration

Deciding where to stay to witness the GAM will depend on where the animals are during their migration route, influenced by rainfall patterns as they follow the growth of new grass.  

December to March:  Experience the migration in the Serengeti, Tanzania in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area: the season when 300,000 - 400,000 calves are born. Stay here:  The Serengeti Sopa Lodge for stunning countryside located at the highest point of the Ngorongoro crater’s entire rim above the vast plains of the Serengeti.

July to December: Dependant on rainfall patterns the herd attempts to cross the Grumeti River in the Serengeti’s Western Corridor, where carnivores including crocodiles lie in wait. Stay here: At the Serena Lodge when you embark on a Tanzania Fly-in Safari, and stay for a touch of luxury, flying directly into the Serengeti by light aircraft.

September to October: Again depending on the rainfalls, the herd move north to cross into Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve, offering the perfect opportunity for you to discover Masai culture. Stay here: Governors' Il Moran for luxury tented accommodation and candlelit dinners under the stars along with breathtaking game drives.

The Great Annual Migration is the perfect introduction to Africa, the Big Five and a chance to discover the awe-inspiring landscape of the Serengeti or the Masai Mara. For tips on how to survive your first safari read our blog or visit our safari pages for more information.