We humans aren’t the only ones that love to travel. In fact, there are many well-travelled creatures in the animal kingdom, from turtles, butterflies, dragonflies and hummingbirds, to crabs, salmon and whales that seemingly share our wanderlust spirit, travelling tremendous distances every year.
There’s no denying that East Africa’s Great Migration is one of the world’s most famous, sought-after and photographed wildlife spectacles, but plenty of other animals, big and small, make their own arduous treks, by land, sea and air that are also worthy contenders for any wildlife enthusiast’s bucket list.
Have you ever witnessed the sea of pretty pink in Tanzania as the flamboyant flocks of flamingoes fly in and settle on the soda lakes? Another sight to behold is Botswana’s dazzling zebra migration; with so many stripes it almost seems like an optical illusion. In Bhutan, there’s even an annual festival every November that is dedicated entirely to the highly anticipated and much-revered arrival of the endangered black-necked crane.
Whether the animals travel in search of fairer climates, greener pastures, warmer waters or the perfect place to give birth, these annual wildlife journeys are as old as time, yet they remain fascinating and truly unforgettable to see. Imagine traversing thousands of kilometres with no maps, navigation tools or GPS devices, year in and year out, relying on nothing but primal instinct. Clearly, not all those who wander are lost.
The great news is that many of our lodges, camps and partner properties have front-row seats to these dramatic shows, and our expert guides have been revealing these miraculous natural phenomena to guests for more than 25 years. So, be sure to add these 10 amazing animal migrations to your wildlife bucket list. Mother Nature is extraordinary … you won’t believe your eyes!
Arguably the most famous of the animal migrations, the Great Migration is the astounding, never-ending trek of – no exaggeration – more than 1.5 million wildebeest, 500 000 zebra, 18 000 eland and 200 000 Thompson’s gazelle across the enormous Serengeti/Mara ecosystem (peaking in July/August, but taking place year-round). Image © Michael Poliza.
Far lesser known than the Great Wildebeest Migration, East Africa is home to yet another impressive antelope migration. On the Serengeti plains, near &Beyond Grumeti Serengeti Tented Camp, witness sizeable herds of topi that are also in search of greener pastures to graze (between December and February).
Most definitely a striking sight, watch as dazzles of zebra travel in monochromatic droves through Botswana’s picturesque Linyanti and Savute areas (peaking in January/February).
Gaze upon a vast sea of pink as large flocks of graceful flamingoes migrate between Tanzania’s many alkaline lakes. These elegant birds fly from lake to lake as food sources deplete and their breeding seasons arrive. Typically they can be seen at &Beyond Lake Manyara Tree Lodge from June to September, and again from January to March, weather dependent of course. Image © Michael Poliza.
Every year between July and October, wildlife lovers flock to Sri Lanka’s Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks to witness an extraordinary natural phenomenon: the annual congregation of over 300 wild elephants. Dubbed “The Gathering”, this yearly elephant migration has been observed for centuries and is the highest concentration of wild Asian elephant in the world. Image © Riaz Cader.
6. Black-necked crane
The endangered black-necked crane spends its summer holidays breeding on the Tibetan Plateau. Then, every year from late October to mid-February, more than 300 of these cranes flock to Bhutan’s Phobjikha Valley, and without fail, they enigmatically loop over the Gangtey Goempa Monastery three full times, both when they arrive and when they leave.
7. Sea turtle
A ritual as old as time, for hundreds of millions of years sea turtles have been innately returning to the exact place they were born in order to lay their own eggs. Often travelling thousands of kilometres, they move between foraging and nesting sites, opting for warmer waters as the seasons change.
Every year between November and January, enormous 700 kg leatherback and loggerhead turtles emerge from the Indian Ocean to lay their eggs at Sodwana Bay near &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve.
On &Beyond Mnemba Island in Zanzibar, endangered green sea turtles also return to their exact birthplace to lay eggs on Mnemba’s pristine, protected shores. Mnemba’s turtle season typically runs from February to July (peaking from April to July); however, that said, layings can occur year round, with hatchlings emerging approximately 55 days later. Over on &Beyond Vamizi Island in Mozambique, turtle layings occur year round.
8. Humpback whale
The longest migration of any mammal is, not surprisingly, undertaken by the world’s largest mammal, the whale. Humpback whales actually travel farther than any other species to reach their breeding and feeding grounds.
These mighty mammals pass the shores of Mozambique’s Quirimbas Archipelago, alongside their new-born calves, making for some great whale watching between July and September. In both South Africa and South America, the humpback whale watching season runs from May to December. From June to October, these mighty whales give birth in the warm waters off Ecuador, having migrated all the way from the Antarctic.
Iconic to South America, the loveable, “tuxedo”-clad Magellanic penguins gather in large nesting colonies to breed on the coasts of Chile and Argentina from September until late February/early March. Between March and September, the flightless birds swim as far north as Brazil in search of warmer climates.
Perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea, the increasingly popular great bat migration takes place in Zambia’s Kasanka National Park. Enticed by the seed-rich fruits that fill the trees towards the end of October, large colonies of fruit bats start to arrive at Kasanka’s lush swamp forest. A few weeks later, more than eight million of these creatures take over a space no larger than a hectare until early January. A great way to kick off Hallowe’en, no?