If you grew up watching wildlife shows narrated by the legendary David Attenborough, chances are pretty good that you’re mildly obsessed with the Great East African wildebeest migration.
Rolling on from year to year in what is perhaps the clearest example of the Great Circle of Life (said in Mufasa’s voice) at work, this incredible natural display contains all the elements of a good edge-of-the-seat drama: romance, new life, travel, enemies lurking in the shadows, death, survival and, finally, greener pastures for those who make it.
Captivating images of swarming savannahs, rushing waters and snapping croc jaws draw thousands of tourists to Tanzania’s Serengeti and the neighbouring Maasai Mara in Kenya on an annual basis, inspiring dreams of once-in-a-lifetime sightings and moments caught on camera.
However, like most natural phenomena, there’s really no knowing exactly when and how what will happen, making planning for the great event a bit of a gamble.
Luckily, we have technology on our side and, as you know, there's even an app for everything these days. Even the wildebeest migration!
You can start dreaming about your Great Wildebeest Migration adventure in real time...
Taking the form of a real-time Google map, the app shows weekly updates of the migration’s precise location.
DiscoverAfrica, sources the weekly HerdTracker updates from pilots who fly over the Serengeti and Masai Mara, safari guides on the ground, Tanzania National Parks Authority rangers and lodges in the Masai Mara in Kenya.
In other words… it’s pretty legit!
There are three ways you can plug into the antics of the herds:
1. Check out the DiscoverAfrica website
2. Get a weekly email update
3. Follow HerdTracker on Twitter, which is narrated by a young Wildebeest called Conrad.
Apart from real time updates on the movement of the herds, the app also shares spectacular videos and photographs of the event.
Over the last few days, for example, the wildebeest have been traversing the Mara River on the Serengeti’s side, making for some spectacular footage!
Take a look at these updates via Twitter:
In the Mara Triangle moving into the Serengeti. Mom says a few wildebeest were taken by crocs at Mortuary Crossing. pic.twitter.com/m1NUoCwe2R— Tweeting Wildebeest (@HerdTracker) September 20, 2014
The app is, of course, used best in conjunction with a broader understanding of how the seasons of migration works.
Because, let’s face it, booking a Serengeti holiday is hardly a spur-of-the-moment sort of thing for most of us.
The migration from month-to-month:
Firstly, it's important to understand that the migration is an ongoing process, which is essentially all about finding greener pastures. Basically, massive herds of up to 1 million wildebeest, joined by some 200 000 zebra and 400 000 gazelles, move from their wet season grazing in the southern and eastern Serengeti to dry season habitat in the north on either side of the Mara river.
While it's hardly possible to have a cut-and-dried time frame of their movement, here's a great rough monthly guide, as explained by this cool little Go2Africa video:
January - March: During the beginning of the year vast herds gather in the southern part of the Serengeti, mostly in the Ndutu and Ngorongoro Conservation Area. This is also calving season, which means there are loads of cute little wildebeest... and of course a lot of predators wanting to cash in on the vulnerability.
By March, the herds start gathering once more to prepare for their westward journey.
April - May: During these months the herds are in full trekking mode, forming columns of up to 40km long as they move up from the southern Serengeti on into the central and western areas. This makes for some spectacular scenery and predators are still on the prowl.
June - July: This is the big event on the migration calendar - the crossing of the crocodile infested Grumeti River. Here you can expect to see all those nervously stomping hooves, snapping jaws and intense victory swims! The stuff of Attenborough legends!
August - September: Those who made the river crossing, head on up into the northern Serengeti and start aiming toward Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve. The herd starts breaking up from one massive column into smaller chunks. Some remain in the Serengeti, while others go on to graze in the Masai Mara. While these were all lucky enough to escape the crocodiles' jaws, they now face big cat claws.
October - November: The short rains begin and the herds start following the clouds from the dry Masai Mara back into the Serengeti. Masses of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle cover the central and eastern parts of the Serengeti, calving begins... and it all starts over again!