The Bucket List. Cliché though it may seem, it’s really just a reminder to focus on what matters and get the most out of life with those who matter most. We encourage everyone to have one, big or small, achievable or outrageous, adventurous or sentimental. It’s an invitation to dream, explore and experience unforgettable moments in unforgettable places.
We’re in the business of making bucket list dreams come true and witnessing East Africa’s mind-boggling Great Migration is perhaps one of the most popular requests. Undeniably one of Africa’s most sought-after adventures, the annual wildebeest migration is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience that should be on every wildlife enthusiast’s bucket list.
The constant movement of grunting gnus across the vast Serengeti/Mara plains consists of more than 1.5 million wildebeest, 500 000 zebras, 18 000 eland and 200 000 Thompson’s gazelle, all in relentless pursuit of lush new vegetation to graze. Of course, the enormous herds of thundering hooves are forever being stalked by hungry predators lurking nearby, giving onlookers the most jaw-dropping, action-packed wildlife sightings.
So when is the best time to see the wildebeest migration? That’s the best part – it happens all year round! The massive throngs of nomadic herbivores are constantly on the move in search of greener pastures. No two years are the same either; the weather patterns largely dictate when and where the herds will roam. Of course, if you want to see the nail-biting river crossings, then the July to October high season is your best bet, but there are many wonderful perks to witnessing this natural phenomenon in the New Year, so why not make it a Gnu Year to remember? Start the year off with a bang by treating yourself to the luxury of witnessing a bucket list wildlife encounter on the world-famous, tree-dotted plains of the Serengeti.
Here are 10 reasons why you should see the Great Migration in January and February:
1. The miracle of new life
Every year, from late January to February, the herds gather in the southern Serengeti, Ndutu region and Ngorongoro Conservation Area. This is the height of the calving season when female wildebeest drop their young. It is estimated that during the peak of this birthing season, an astounding 8 000 calves are born each day. If you’re lucky, you’ll witness a birth and be able to watch as the newborn quickly learns to use its shaky, unstable little legs and takes its first clumsy steps to join the herd.
2. Predator & prey
The vast game-filled plains, teeming with new life and wobbly newborns, are now also crawling with Africa’s iconic and opportunistic predators. Large lion prides, elusive leopards, high-speed cheetah, boisterous clans of scavenging hyenas and agile packs of endangered African wild dogs all seem to emerge, seemingly from out of nowhere, lured by the highly anticipated arrival of the herds and even more so by the sight of the helpless calves.
3. The circle of life
Like it or not, the miracle of new life also encourages the circle of life, as the throws of hungry predators are lured to the plains for a quick, easy meal. During these months, there is a very good chance you’ll witness a kill. It is nature’s stage, after all, so let the drama unfold and watch as the nail-biting drama ensues. This is the stuff wildlife documentaries are made of!
Image © Grant Telfer.
4. Summer in the south
January and February are the height of summer in the southern hemisphere. The weather is glorious; beautiful, warm and sunny days are bookended by crisp mornings and evenings. The short rains have (for the most part) concluded and the long rains have not yet begun, so this is the ideal window for mild, dry weather and prime game viewing.
Image © Grant Telfer.
5. Spoiled for choice
It goes without saying that there are definite perks to travelling in the low season. We’re talking lower rates and less-crowded accommodation. With the herds gathered and grazing in the southern reaches of the Serengeti, guests visiting the oh-so-luxurious &Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge and both of the classically elegant &Beyond Serengeti Under Canvas camps are within close reach of the mighty herds.
6. The right crowd
The joy of low season also means that the wildlife parks are far less crowded and guests can enjoy a more private, exclusive safari. So, while there are in fact crowds upon crowds of grunting gnus and lurking predators, the crowds of human onlookers will have noticeably dispersed, allowing a far more enjoyable experience.
7. The sounds of Africa
With the gigantic herds gathered and stationary, for the most part, this is a wonderful time to really experience the incredible, truly iconic sounds of Africa. Listen to the comical grunting of the gnus as they continue their feeding frenzy. Hear the newborn bleats of the new calves as they quickly learn to adapt to the herd. Fall asleep to the calls of the hyena or, if you’re lucky, the deep, haunting roar of the lion. This is Africa.
Although this was actually filmed in South Africa, it’ll give you a taste of the goosebump-worthy sound you’ll never forget.
8. A photographer’s dream
January and February are a wildlife photographer’s dream come true; just think, enormous herds as far as the eye can see, wildebeest giving birth, calves taking their first steps and predators skulking around in the background. There is no shortage of action, and with fewer vehicles and more drama, photographers can take home those treasured Great Migration money shots.
Image © Nadhir Waziri.
9. Emerald isle
The season’s short rains magically transform the short-grass plains of the southern Serengeti into a verdant oasis filled with lush, palatable shoots of grass. Not only does this green, inviting landscape entice the herbivores, but it also makes for some incredible photography.
10. Stay put
During the calving season, the herds gather in the masses for the synchronised birthing of their young among the relative ‘safety in numbers’. Guests can witness those dramatic, seemingly never-ending swarms of wandering wildebeest during January and February, before they recommence their arduous northward trek in March.
Image © Grant Telfer.