Dawn’s FAQ of the Week: When is the Great Migration?
One of the most common questions I get is “When is the Great Migration?” The answer is surprisingly straightforward, but there are a lot of misconceptions out there. Let me address that here!
“When is the Great Migration?”
The Great Migration is perpetual, and thus it is always going on without any beginning or end! But as the name accurately implies, the animals are still *moving*. Like a big lawnmower, the giant herds quickly exhaust their food resources and must keep moving to find more grass and water. The Serengeti National Park is wide and vast enough that it captures the bulk of the Great Migration within its boundaries all year long. So even though the migratory animals move around from one area of the Serengeti to another throughout the year, they do follow a fairly predictable pattern. The trick to finding the animals lies in understanding their patterns of movement. And we do! Therefore we strategically design your itinerary to put your where the most animals are, including the Great Migration, and thus setting you up for success no matter what time of year you ultimately go on safari.
Some noteworthy events include the great wildebeest calving that occurs during February, and the crossing of the great Mara River that can occur almost anytime during the dry season, usually crossing the river multiple times between late July and early November.
Another common variation of the question, worth addressing here, goes something like this: ”My safari is during the dry season (July – Nov). Don’t I need to visit Kenya to see The Great Migration?”
The short answer is “No”. You can see The Great Migration by visiting Tanzania alone, but if you just go to Kenya without visiting Tanzania you may miss it!
The long answer: If you look at a map, you can see that Tanzania borders Kenya, and that the Serengeti National Park butts up against the Northern border of Tanzania aka Southern border of Kenya. The Masai Mara is quite simply a small extension of the Northern Serengeti ecosystem, the part that lops over the Kenya border, and even though it is a large area, it is quite small in size compared to the vast Serengeti on the Tanzania side. It’s true that a (relatively) small portion of the Migration may spill over into Kenya’s Masai Mara during the dry season, August through September, but even during this time it is estimated at least 80% of the Migration is always on the Tanzania side. There is not a convenient way to cross the border from Tanzania to Kenya at the Mara, or vice versa. There is a gate “Sand River/Bologonja Gate” that links the Masai Mara to the Serengeti, but this is NOT an official border crossing between the two countries. It’s no secret that the Masai Mara has become overbuilt with many tourist lodges, and Tanzanian officials have been adamant about keeping the Sand River Gate closed “for environmental reasons”, which basically means keeping all those crowds of Kenya tourists at bay. Not a particularly convenient policy for people wanting to visit both countries, but it has been an invaluable strategy in keeping the Northern Serengeti in its pristine condition. There is another border crossing at the “Isebania/Sirari Gate” several miles away, but the trip consists of hours and hours of unpleasant transfer driving that has not always been the safest route.
So as stated previously, you can see The Great Migration by visiting Tanzania alone, but if you just go to Kenya without visiting Tanzania you may miss it. But don’t take our word for it. Per the latest research report in 2008, which was published in Serengeti III , Human Impacts on Ecosystem Dynamics:
-The use of the Maasai Mara Reserve and the Mara area by the Serengeti migratory wildebeest population had dropped by some 65%.
-The percentage of migratory wildebeest moving into Kenya was at its highest in 1984 when an estimated .866 million wildebeest or 68% of the total wildebeest population entered into Kenya. Since 1984, there has been a precipitous drop in the numbers of migratory wildebeest entering the Mara area and Kenya, which has never recovered.
-It is estimated that currently only .307 million or 27% of the wildebeest migration enter into Kenya during the dry season (July to October). The remaining 73% or .830 million of the migratory wildebeest remain in Tanzania and within Serengeti National Park during the dry season.
-In the absence of any evidence of major changes in rainfall, various explanations have been hypothesized as to reasons for this phenomenon including:
–Explosive growth in large scale (mechanized) agriculture on the borders of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve
–Small-scale cultivation and land subdivision in the Mara area
–Concentration of both pastoral settlements and tourist facilities within and around the Mara reserve