The great wildebeest migration is the largest movement of animals on the planet. In fact, with up to 1,000 animals per km², the great columns of meandering wildebeest can be seen from space. The numbers involved in this migration are astonishing: over 1 million wildebeest and 300,000 zebras along with gazelles move in a constant cycle through the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem in search of nutritious grass and water. Witnessing the movement of animals as far as the eye can see across the undulating plains of east Africa is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Timing the great migration
Like everything in travel photography, timing and knowledgeable guidance is the key to success. As large as this migration is, it can be challenging to find at certain times of the year.
In August, there is an event called “the crossing.” This is when the migration turns south and crosses the Mara river during the return to Tanzania down the eastern corridor of the Serengeti, headed to their calving area in the Serengeti.
Each January to early March, the migration is in the eastern Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation area. The herds split into veins, covering massive areas of the plains and giving birth to their young as they follow the rains. From my experience, this is the best time of year to see the herds of animals.
The thundering movement of the herds casts sand into the air like an 18-wheel truck speeding down a dirt road. In 2015, I was in the middle of over 200,000 wildebeest. It was intimidating and exhilarating and made me feel truly insignificant.
Calving season means new life but also brings predation. Predators methodically take weak or young animals to feed their families. Watching and photographing predation brings a range of emotions. I’ve felt the thrill of the chase when a cheetah chases down its pretty at over 100 km/h, mixed with sadness when I see a kill of a defenseless wildebeest or zebra.
Photographing these chases is fun and challenging, resulting in bucket list photos to share with the folks back home. Sometimes the results are sad or gruesome, and sometimes I will simply sit and watch the cycle of nature that predates our time on this planet, allowing the strong to survive.
Africa is in my soul
I remember my first migration back in 2013 as clearly as I remember the last migration I witnessed three months ago. Africa is in my soul, and I yearn to return each year.
There are a variety of safari destinations in Africa, but none quite like the great migration. We’d love to see you on one of our Africa trips, especially the great migration.