The Serengeti – Mara Ecosystem
The Serengeti-Mara Ecosystem is an ancient phenomenon involving the largest movement of wild animals on planet Earth, in pursuit of water and food. Over 1.8 million wildebeests and some six hundred thousand odd zebras accompanied by other plains game migrate from Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area to the plains of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, in Kenya – a journey that covers a round trip of over 2880 Kms in total.
The Serengeti – Mara Ecosystem is a geographical region located in north-western Tanzania and extends to South-Western Kenya between latitudes 1 and 3 S and longitudes 34 and 36 E. It spans some square 30,000 km.
Small thumbnail image link for Migration Maps
The Great Migration Time Table
December: The migration increases its pace as it heads towards the Serengeti’s southern plains, where the short rains are reviving the grass rich in nutrients. Zebra begin to give birth.
January: The migration moves to the short-grass plains of southeastern Serengeti, after the short rains have restored the grass. January and December are the peak months for zebra foaling.
February: The short-grass plains of southeastern Serengeti remain the main feeding ground for some 1.8 million wildebeest, 800,000 zebra and many gazelle. Predators follow close by, feeding on the newly born. There is plenty of food for all wildlife. This is the main calving season month for wildebeest and slowly the great herds move towards the Ndutu Woodlands.
March: Marks the beginning of the long and heavy rains. Clouds, growing in intensity appear from the south and lightning illuminates the night sky. The short-grass plains are near exhaustion but the newborn calves can keep up with their mothers. Instantaneously the Great Herds slowly start moving in the direction of the Masai Mara Game Reserve (in neighboring Kenya) in search of new pastures – but the migration is still well entrenched in the Serengeti.
NOTE: During the months of December, January, February and early March, the best way to see The Great Migration is by camping ‘Out Of Africa’ style in Seronera Valley, Moru Kopjes, Nasera Rock and Ndutu Woodlands. Camping with us around Nasera Rock offers you great chances to see endangered African Wild dogs in relative seclusion. You also get to enjoy some authentic Cultural Experiences when meeting Maasai tribesmen who have not been influenced by the tourist trade.
April: Is the heaviest rain month. Wildebeest are evenly scattered across the Serengeti’s short-grass plains.
May: Good forage is still available but water begins to dwindle. Vast herds begin to band together in wide columns numbering hundreds of thousands stretched over many kilometers; as they trek across woodland zones into the Western Corridor of the Serengeti, in search of new grazing and water. Here regional rains are generated by Lake Victoria’s vast water mass close by.
Note: We do not recommend that you follow the Great Migration during the months of April or early May as the Serengeti is very wet and most of the Great herds are in the waterlogged, black cotton areas of the Maswa Game Controlled Area. There is no immediate source of rescue in this area if a vehicle gets stuck, which is a strong deterrent during these two months. The best time to rejoin the Migration is in the months of June and July when the herds have passed the Maswa Game Controlled Area and are truly in the Western Corridor. This is ideal for our ‘Out Of Africa’ style camps, either at the Kirawira, Simiti, Musabi, Mbalageti, Hembe or Serengeti North’s Kori, Pufu, Lobo, Bologonja and Vogakuria Special Campsites. At Tanzania Private Select Safaris we will recommend the best route up-date for you as conditions change throughout the year. The migration pattern regularly changes from year to year, and there are no guarantees on numbers and sightings. We humans do not control nature!
June: The rains come to an end and the herds leave the black-cotton-soil plains, for the Grumeti River where many wildebeest drown making the perilous crossing. Yearly, Africa’s great river dragons, the Nile crocodiles lurk at these crossing points, gorging on floating wildebeest until their grossly overweight bodies can eat no more. In a normal year many of the great herds can be found around the Seronera Valley.
July: The great herds briefly move northwest, leaving the park as they enter the Grumeti Game Controlled Area, whilst a small portion of the herd head towards the Lobo area. In the Serengeti this time of the year is known as the ‘Cat Season,’ as they flourish hunting the wildebeest.
August: The migration (along with the ever-attendant predators following) now cross the Ikorongo Game Controlled Area and the various branches of the migration regroups. In an average year the migration would now be in northern Serengeti, entering Kenya’s Maasai Mara. July and August offers some of the best opportunities to watch the Wildebeest crossing the Mara River.
September: The migration has now entered Kenya’s Masai Mara Game Reserve, just across the northern border from the Serengeti National Park and it truly is a wonderful and dramatic time to visit.
October: This is the driest month in the Serengeti, which is why the bulk of the animals are in the Masai Mara Game Reserve where water and grazing is plentiful. During this month the concentration of wildlife in the Serengeti is along the riverbanks.
November: Depending on the short rains that usually fall during the month of November, the great herds start to return from Mara for fresh pastures in southern Serengeti, which is part of the Ngorongoro ecosystem. By the time the great herds have finished the round trip, they will have covered over 1200 Kms, and more than 250,000 wildebeests will have lost their lives.
Mid-November the great herds move from the Mara back to the Serengeti, spreading a huge distant up to Kline’s Gate in the Loliondo Game Controlled Area. Part of the migration diverts to the eastern plains of the Serengeti.
At this time the Great Migration is best seen from our ‘Out Of Africa’ style camps at the Ngarenyanyuki Special Campsites in the Serengeti National Park. Giant, stripped rock kopjes overlook the endless Ang’ata Kiti plains. The Migration has now taken a full circle of approximately 2880 kms by this time!
The Migration pattern is never the same.
It is dependent on rainfall and to a large extent this changes annually. The variance in movement and direction studied and recorded over many years has varied between 40 Kms to 200 Kms. No one can fully predict the best sites and this is part of the magical mystery and natural wonder of the Great Migration.