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Annually more than a million White bearded wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of zebras and gazelles, eland and other antelope make a never ending, roughly circular, annual journey in search of grazing and water. The migration takes place across the Serengeti plains of north western Tanzania and Masai Mara region of southern Kenya with dramatic crossings over the Grumeti River - the best places to view this migration vary according to the time of the year. Another less well known and much smaller wildebeest migration takes place on the Liuwa Plains in Western Zambia. The best time to view these animals is in late October and November.

The images of hundreds of thousands of wildebeest trekking across the Serengeti plains, followed by lions and hyenas, and then braving crocodile infested rivers are perhaps the most famous wildlife pictures ever produced.

The migration does not only involve more than a million White bearded wildebeest  –  about 150 000 (some scientists claim 200 000) Burchell’s zebras and smaller numbers of Grant’s and Thompson’s gazelles, eland and other antelope make the never ending, roughly circular, annual journey in search of the rains and grazing.  The migration takes place across the Serengeti plains of north western Tanzania and Masai Mara region of southern Kenya.

Many predators, including lions, hyenas, cheetahs and crocodiles,  depend on the ungulates for their survival and in turn, vultures watch the predators to ensure that they too benefit from kills. Most of the wildebeest calves are born between late January and early March.

The movement of the animals is determined by the timing of the rains which varies from year to year.

The animals move over a vast area and it is best to consult your safari specialists about the best time to visit different locations.  There are two rainy seasons. The “short rains” fall in November and December but the longer, and heavier “rains” fall during April and May.

At the end of the dry season, September and October, many of the animals gather in Kenya’s Masai Mara and then move south into Tanzania as the “short rains” begin.  The herds then move in a roughly clockwise direction throughout the Serengeti ecosystem for the rest of the year.

The herds begin the spectacular, and dangerous, crossing of the Grumeti River in June. Huge crocodile await and ambush the slow or unlucky.  A similar hazard awaits the wildebeest when they cross the Mara River in late July and August.

Although the large mammals are the focus of most tourists’ attention many smaller creatures combine to make up the region’s biodiversity.

T he tourism industry of the region is highly developed and offers a wide range of accommodation and tour options. Some lodges use mobile tented camps which allow them to adapt to the movements of the animals.

Permanent lodges operate in areas, where experience has shown, the migration passes through at similar times each year.

All lodges employ trained guides to drive game viewing vehicles and to provide guests with facts and figures about the migration and the wildlife of the area.

Liuwa Plains, Western Zambia

A far less well known and much smaller wildebeest migration takes place in Western Zambia with more than 40 000 Blue wildebeest moving from the Liuwa Plains National Park into

eastern Angola every year.  For years the migration remained poorly known because of decades of war in Angola but peace in the region, and better wildlife management, has allowed the wildlife population to recover. This is the second largest wildebeest migration after the Serengeti.

The best time to see the wildebeest is late November when the animals have calved and just before the heavy summer rains arrive. Later in the year the wildebeest move into Angola in search of better grazing and return to Zambia in about June.

Liuwa Plains National Park lies west of the upper Zambezi and forms part of a massive floodplain. The National Park covers more 3 600 square kilometres and has only a 30 metre variance between the highest and lowest points. The extremely flat landscape coupled with the remote location of the park helps create a sense of vast space and wilderness.  A large spotted hyena population is particularly active after the wildebeest have calved and lions have recently been reintroduced although for  years a single lioness maintained a lonely existence in the park.

The park is also home to zebra, tsessebe, red lechwe,  oribi and other species.  The region has exceptionally varied birdlife, particularly at the end of the dry season when large numbers of water birds gather in the last remaining water in the pans (ponds and lakes). Large flocks of crowned and Wattled cranes can be seen as well as Spur-winged geese. Martial eagles, western banded snake eagles and other raptors are often encountered.

The Liuwa Plains National Park is one of the oldest protected areas in Africa having being established by a decree issued by the Lozi King Lewanika in the 19th century.  The National Park is unusual because local people are allowed to live in parts of the park and catch fish as well as graze their cattle. The park provides a glimpse of an Africa that existed in a bygone age.

Safari operators offer fly in safaris and local communities run tented camp sites within the park.

White eared kob

One the world largest and least known large mammal migrations takes place each year in the Sudd region of Southern Sudan when more than 800 000 White-eared kob, accompanied by several hundred thousand tiang antelope and  Mongalla gazelles participate in a massive migration in search of better grazing.

The National Geographic Society reports that at the southernmost point of the migration the animals will have moved 1 500 kilometers. Some herds are reported to stretch almost 50 kilometres.

Tourism to the region is limited because of the remote nature of the region as well as decades of conflict. Although peace accords have recently been signed by Southern Sudan and Sudan there is sporadic violence which makes encouraging tourism tricky.



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SATSA No. 207

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SATSA No. 207

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