The Greatest Animal Show On Earth

Posted On November 16, 2009 

About Serengeti

The Serengeti (from Masaai ‘Siringitu’ meaning ‘endless plains’) ecosystem extends from north-western Tanzania to south-western Kenya spanning over an area of 30,000 square kilometres. The Serengeti region encompasses besides Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Maswa Game Reserve, Loliondo, Grumeti and Ikorongo Controlled Areas and the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. Two world heritage sites and biosphere reserves have been set up within the Serengeti ecosystem. The ecosystem, which is one of the oldest in the entire earth, has often served as a favourite subject to creative personalities like writers, filmmakers and photographers besides attracting over 90,000 tourists every year. The story goes that Stewart Edwin White, an American hunter was the first white man to hit upon the Serengeti while trying to reach Nairobi in Kenya. That was in 1913, a good 96 years ago.

Serengeti National Park is Tanzania’s oldest encompassing Lake Manyara, Tarangire and Arusha national parks and Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

Serengeti wildlife

Serengeti is home to about 70 larger mammals and 500 avifauna species. This rich diversity is the result of the diverse habitats in the large ecosystem that include riverine forests, swamps, grasslands, woodlands and others. Gazelles, zebras and buffalos are some of the mammals found here. Lion, leopard, Black Rhinoceros, African Buffalo and elephants are the other famous five resident wildlife in Serengeti National Park.

serengeti wildlife

Wildebeest migration

The wildebeest migration in Serengeti, considered as the largest and longest land migration in the world is among the top ten natural (travel) wonders in the world. Those who have had a chance to witness nearly two million animals on the move get to feel the pulse of Serengeti magic.

In what is termed as the ‘biggest animal show on earth’ over a million wildebeest and about 2,00,000 zebras travel from the northern hills down to the southern plains in the months of October and November every year. They cross the Mara River that flows through Tanzania and Kenya. They move towards the west and north after the long rains in April, May and June. The penchant to move is so strong that no challenges whatsoever, be it drought, a crocodile infested river or a geographical hindrance can hold them back. The animals travel through a variety of parks, reserves and protected areas and habitat. The migrating herds move in a circular route in a clockwise direction.

Over 2,50,000 animals die during the journey that covers 500 miles owing to injury, exhaustion or attack from fierce predators. The semi-annual wildlife migration has been documented in a 1994 film called Africa: The Serengeti.

wildebeest migration serengeti

Route of the migration

If we consider from January to December of a calendar year, the movement of the Serengeti wildebeest will be something like this:

(month) Jan:  (prime location)Ngorongoro Conservative Area (NCA), Southern Serengeti

Feb: Ngorongoro Conservative Area (NCA), Southern Serengeti

Mar: Southern Serengeti, NCA

Apr:  Central Serengeti

May: Western Serengeti

June: Western and central Serengeti

July: Western and northern Serengeti, Masai Mara

Aug: Masai Mara, northern Serengeti

Sep: Masai Mara, northern Serengeti

Oct: Northern Serengeti, Masai Mara

Nov: Northern Serengeti, NCA

Dec: NCA, southern Serengeti

Migration in details:

December, January, Feburary, March

From December through March the plains of the southern Serengeti and the NCA are inhabited by enormous herds of wildebeest and zebra. The herds graze on rain ripened grass. In the reproductive season (from late January through mid March) the herds concentrate at the Ndutu and Salei plains (Southern Serengeti / NCA) attracting predators like lion, cheetah and hyena.

April, May

In the months of April and May, the depleted plains can no more sustain the endless herds. The animals, sweeping west and north, moves from the short grass plains of the southern Serengeti / NCA to the long grass plains and woodlands, almost touching Lake Victoria.


By the end of May the wildebeest have exhausted the western region’s pastures and the herds begin to move further north. June is a transitional period between the rainy and the dry season.

July, August, September, October

By July herds amass along the swollen Mara River. Sometimes the crossing place they chose is shallow allowing a safe passage. In other areas the wildebeest drown in the rough river.


The arrival of the short rains pushes the migration southward. As November approaches its end, the migration makes its way back to the southern Serengeti. The circular movement comes full cirtcle.

Reason behind the migration

The Serengeti wildebeests spend the rainy season, i.e., from December to June in the volcanic open plains below the Ngorongoro Crater. The grasses that grow here have high nutrient contents enabling new-born calves of the animals to sustain. Even possibilities of attack from the predators remain at a low during this time. But when the monsoon dries up in June, the plains dry out and the wildebeests begin to move west towards Lake Victoria in search of greener pasture. During this time the plains turn harsh into dry semi-desert hence forcing the wildebeest to migrate. Only through migration can the wildebeest and zebra can survive. With the onset of the monsoon rains in December the wildebeests move back into the lush Serengeti plains. The entirety of the migration is dependant upon the coming of the rains. Carnivorous animals, however, do not migrate with the grazing herbivores. Instead, they feast on the latter when their ways cross each other during the movement.

Some important occurrence during the movement

After four months of trekking, the migrating animals desperately need water and food. Unable to bear the ordeal, many even perish during the journey even before reaching the Mara River. Crossing this river pose another major obstacle which again, many fail to overcome. If the area of crossing is shallow majority of the migrants manage to overcome the challenge but often the river is deep and fast flowing with steep banks on either side, which makes it difficult for the young animals. Several of them succumb to the challenge hence giving the crocodiles, lions and hyenas a great opportunity to feast upon. Another noteworthy event during the migration is the stampede that occurs when innumerable animals mass at water sources to quench their thirst. The stampede often leads to the separation of the calves from their mothers. Many a time, the panicky calves fall prey to the predators but otherwise, they end up reuniting with their mothers.

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