The Great Migration: The Circle of Life, Up Close and Personal

The Great Migration is one of Earth’s most awe-inspiring events. Every year, nearly two million wildebeest (and hundreds of thousands of zebra, eland, gazelle, and countless other species) trod the plains of Tanzania and Kenya in search of lush, green pastures.

The Migration doesn’t have an “on/off” switch; the entire event is based on the whims of Mother Nature. However, the best time to visit Kenya to experience the Migration is during July and August, but there are still some lingering trails of animals well into September.

The year-round residents of the Masai Mara, including crocodiles, cheetah, and lion, eagerly await the oncoming throngs of fresh meat. A trip to Kenya to see the Great Migration is oftentimes bloody, but - as we #NatureNerds know - it’s all part of the Circle of Life, and nothing exemplifies this more than the Migration.

The Migration is actually a continuous circular movement of wildebeest, but for practical purposes, it’s easiest to think of the beginning of the circuit as November/December, when the short rains in Tanzania provide ample nutritious grasses. Then, in February, there is a short window of about 8 weeks during which some 300,000 wildebeest calves are born! This is when the milk is richest and there is a certain amount of safety in a mass-birth, as predators who dine on newborns are often overwhelmed and satiated.

By April/May, the wildlife is ready to begin the trek north into Kenya. There is no one migratory pattern; in fact, the Great Migration is noisy, hectic, and chaotic, with several “branches” of the migration stretching as far as the eye can see. Predicting their movement is an effort in futility, however, as the herds may sometimes backtrack or make sudden shifts in their trajectory.

The Migration continues its northward journey during the summer months, chasing the rains (it’s believed that they often use the thunder and lightning of nearby storms to guide the herds to fresh water and grass).

September in Kenya is when the Migration faces its most serious obstacle: the Mara River. When the migration arrives at the river, there can be a backup of thousands - or tens of thousands - of animals, hesitant to traverse the crocodile-infested waters. Trampling and drowning is also a serious risk, especially for the youngest wildebeest.

And then, all of a sudden...the first brave wildebeest makes the leap into the river, and then the seal is broken. Within minutes, there is a stampede across the river, with many animals panicking in the chaos, while others are targeted by the hungry crocodiles. It is vicious, bloody, and intense, but it is the Circle of Life on full display, in front of your eyes.

Seriously life-changing.

During the months of October and November, the wildebeest are on their circular track back south, toward the Serengeti of Tanzania, to start the cycle all over again…

When on safari to see the Great Migration, I actually recommend a unique style of accommodation: the mobile tented camp (sometimes called a walking safari). This will allow you to better adjust to the randomness of the herd. While this type of experience is a bit more rustic and basic, it is not your typical “camping” experience. You’ll have private bathrooms, warm showers, comfortable beds, and the same great service you’ve come to expect from the Kenyan people. It will just be in a more classic “camp” setting.

If a mobile safari isn’t your cuppa tea, no problem! Click here to see my favorite (permanent) tented camps! Hey, if it’s good enough for Sir Richard Branson, it’s good enough for me.

Are you convinced that you need to see the Great Migration in your lifetime?

Smart choice.

Get in touch with me to get the ball rolling and make plans for next year’s Migration (pro tip: book at least a year out as it is guaranteed to sell out far in advance).