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Seven Magnificent African Migrations

Africa plays host to wonderous wildlife migrations, from the world-famous Wildebeest Migration in the Serengeti and Masai Mara to the mass migration of whales along East Africa's coastline. Here's our top seven.

Alex

Alex

Operations & Marketing Development
Published on

20 Sep 2021

Seven Migrations

Africa plays host to wonderous wildlife migrations, from the world-famous Wildebeest Migration in the Serengeti and Masai Mara to the mass migration of whales along East Africa's coastline. Here's our top seven, some you may have heard of, others potentially not. All will spark inspiration to travel to places far and wild to experience the wonders of the natural world.

Great Wildebeest Migration Blog
Great wildebeest migration - serengeti and masai mara

The Great Wildebeest Migration – Serengeti and Masai Mara

Top of the list is the unmissable Great Wildebeest Migration which follows an annual circular route through the Serengeti-Masai Mara ecosystem.

Often described as the ‘Greatest Wildlife Spectacle on Earth’ – hundreds of thousands of Wildebeests and zebra and a myriad of antelope follow the rains through Tanzania's Serengeti and Kenya's Masai Mara in search of fresh pastures and grazing.

This never-ending clockwise route through this remarkable ecosystem is fraught with danger throughout with predators lurking at every stage.

During the months of January through to around mid-March sees the phenomenal calving season in the southern regions of the Serengeti, in particular the Ndutu area, where at it’s peak up to 10,000 wildebeest calves, zebra foals and a plethora of antelope lambs are born. A sight to behold in itself. Add into the mix the predators, which are also having cubs and pups meaning there are many hungry mouths to feed. This period the migration is probably the best time to see predators actively hunting during the day with prides of lions, clans of hyena, leopards and cheetah all stalking the herds in search of easy prey…

From those early months, the mega-herds follow the rains north passing through the central regions of the Serengeti before arriving at the Grumeti and Mara river systems in the north between July and October depending on when the rains falls.

Governors Private Camp Great Migration
River crossing of the great migration

This is where the famed rivers crossings occur. The herds must cross the rivers to continue their journey, but these rivers are fraught with danger, they’re filled with huge, monstrous crocodiles who lurk, patiently waiting for their opportunity to snatch those who brave the churning waters. And those that survive must still pass through the open plains of the Masai Mara where, again, predators wait in numbers.

The herds move south, down the western flanks of the Masai Mara and eastern borders of the Serengeti, back towards the calving grounds of the stunning Ndutu plains where their circle of life journey must begin again…

This mass migration brings plentiful opportunities for predators who must also feed their hungry families. And as the migration passes through their territories, it’s a time of bounty. Could this be one of the main reasons why the Masai Mara-Serengeti ecosystem is home to some of the largest populations of lions and cheetah left in the world today…? Maybe, just maybe...

Cheetah In Serengeti
cheetah in the serengeti
Fr Lion
lion in the masai mara

When and where to witness the Great Wildebeest Migration

Depending on the time of year which you want to travel will determine where you are likely to have the best opportunity to see the Great Migration. We've have some brilliant guides to help you decide when and where to go - to read more click the link below.

Where and when to see the Great Migration

Landscape With Ndutu Safari Lodge
Ndutu Safari Lodge, Tanzania

Tanzania

With the majority of the Great Migration occurring in Tanzania's Serengeti there's a multitude of places to stay one of our favourites is the well-renowned Ndutu Safari Lodge. Why? It offers a rustic safari experience combined with being exquisitely positioned close to the Serengeti's kopje's where predators lounge on large rock formations keeping a lookout for their next hunting opportunity.

Check out Ndutu Safari Lodge

Governors Camp
Governors Camp in the masai mara

Kenya

Although the Great Migration may only spend a few months in Kenya's Masai Mara it is certainly one of the highlights of the wildlife calendar around the world. And where better to witness it than in the privacy of the Masai Mara's Northern Conservancy where you can enjoy the greatest wildlife spectacle in privacy, well away from busy crowds. One of our favourit places to stay is the historic Governors Camp which is nestled on the banks of the Mara River itself.

Read more about Governors Camp


Kasanka Bat Migration – Zambia

Despite popular belief, Africa’s largest wildlife migration doesn’t take place on the grass plains and savannas of the Serengeti and Masai Mara. Rather it takes place in the skies over the Congo and Zambia in November when more than 8 million straw-coloured fruit bats make their journey to Zambia’s Kasanka National Park and settle in a small patch of swampy forest between October and December each year.

The scale of the migration is utterly immense – bats as far as the eye can see, in every direction and in Kasanka National Park there are plenty of viewpoints and hides to immerse yourself in this annual phenomenon.

Kasanka Bat Migration
Bat migration in zambia's kasanka national park

I’ll set the scene for you… As the orange hue of sunset floods the wetlands as the sun approaches the horizon the crooked black silhouettes of the mahogany and milkwood trees begin to move. Sagging branches pop back into place relieved of the weight of puppy-sized fruit bats which have slept the day through, so tightly packed together that some are clinging onto others rather than the branches themselves.

First the scouts fly out, followed by the entire colony as they ascend, dispersing in search of the plentiful wild fruits found in Kasanka at this time of year. The evening skies are filled with the chatter of bats as they dart in and out of the trees, casting a dark, could-like mass in the sky, looking from a distance like a swarm of bees.

In the morning they tumble back into the trees, pushing and shoving, noisily clambering over each other to find a comfy space in which to hang upside down and enjoy some shut-eye. The area is so densely covered in bats, that it is not uncommon for the branches to snap, sending these bulky, and now bloated from fruit, critters hurtling ungracefully to the ground.

Kasanka Fruit Bat
Fruit bat in Kasanka national park

Towards the end of November, over 8 million of these straw-coloured fruit bats will have flooded the area no larger than a couple of hectares. This unique event is one of the world’s best kept secrets and for years this startling sight has remained just that to the majority. Taking place in one area throughout just a few months means that your safari must be impeccably timed.

The great bat migration has many factors to it, leading to the bats being one of the most important migratory animals when it comes to regenerating the forests of Africa. It has been found that these amazing bats (Eidolon helvum) can consume nearly twice their bodyweight in fruit per night and when you combine that fact with the sheer number of bats, that’s nearly 6,000 tons of the tasty wild loquat, waterberry and red milkwood eaten. Along their lengthy migration and nightly forages, they spread seeds through their faeces, assisting the growth of the land and new generation of trees.

Read more about the Kasanka Bat Migration

Wasa Lodge by the lake
Wasa Lodge - Kasanka National Park

Where to stay in Kasanka

Wasa Lodge in Kasanka ideally places you to witness this mega-migration. A small intimate camp, and a perfect alternative to Zambia's traditional safari destinations. Kasanka is a little visited region of forest and wetlands,this secluded reserve allows guests to experience the unique wildlife of Africa’s tropical forests.

Find out more about Wasa Lodge


Zebra Migration – Botswana

Botswana, synonymous with luxury world-class safari lodges and camps. But a little-known wild spectacle occurs annually – the longest, most ancient single migration of animals that has ever been recorded in Africa. Botswana’s zebra migration.

Zebra Migration
zebra migration botswana

If you visit the right areas of Botswana at the right time of year, during their summer months, usually between December to March - you can experience this amazing sight, in all its glory. It’s incredible to see first-hand as thousands upon thousands of zebra and wildebeest kick up plumes of dust as they move from one grazing area to the next.

But why is this migration only just been ‘discovered’? For thousands of years this migration quietly occurred in the wildest areas of Botswana until the 1950’s and 60’s when huge lengths of fencing were erected to curb the spread of foot and mouth disease which was running rife at the time. Once these fences were dropped in in the mid 2000’s, the migration began again.

The herds of zebra move first from north to south, then back from south to north. They move with the seasons and the rainfall, always in search of fresh grazing land. The zebra will cover huge tracts of land with up to 30,000 animals on the move at any one time. While it’s not Africa’s largest migration, it is the largest in southern Africa.

Okavango Delta  Aeriel  View
The waterways of the okavango delta

Botswana experiences very distinct wet and dry seasons. Much of the interior of the country is made up of the dry, barren, semi-arid Kalahari Desert where life can only be supported during the stormy wet season. The north of Botswana comprises the more fertile deltas of the Okavango Delta and Chobe rivers, where watering holes and rivers are still full of water throughout the dry season.

Instead, the zebra will spend the long dry season between May and November in the wetlands in northern Botswana, enjoying the plentiful water of the rivers, especially the Boteti. As the dry season comes to an end in late November to early December, the zebra will begin to move from the north to the south, following routes that have been taken by countless generation of animals for thousands of years.

They cross the plains of the Kalahari Desert, now wracked by thunderstorms, to find more grazing further south entering the vast Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, entering in December and with the zebra, come all manner of predators and birds, including countless flamingos, to temporarily populate this desert region with a vibrant array of life.

The pans are a place that in the dry season is devoid of life and water but that is now lush and bursting with vegetation. It’s here that they spend the rest of the rainy season, before turning back to reach the northern deltas by the start of the next dry season, making their return to the Delta in March.

When to visit and where to stay

Timing to witness this remarkable migration needs to be planned carefully, knowing where to go and where to stay is imperative. That's why we've written a splendid guide to give you more info - click the link below to learn more

Botswana's Zebra Migration

Where to stay

5Meno A Kwena  Veranda View Over Makgadikgadi National Park
Meno A Kwena - Makgadikgadi National Park

One of our favourite places to stay to see the magnificence of the zebra migration is Meno A Kwena in the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans. It's an oasis of luxury situated on the high cliffs overlooking the dry Boteti river, on the very edge of the western boundary of Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. It's also here Prince Harry chose to take Meghan Markle for their first safari together.

Find out more about Mena A Kwena


Flamingo Migration – Rift Valley, Kenya and Tanzania

Although a relatively short migration, but an equally impressive spectacle, is the greater and lesser flamingo migrations along the Great Rift Valley between Kenya and Tanzania and they also can migrate as far as Botswana.

Millions of these strange looking, brightly pink-feathered birds which teeter on impossibly thin legs migrate through the various soda lakes within the Great Rift Valley. In Kenya, Lakes Nakuru, Bogoria and Elmenteita are flamingo hotspots.

Lake Bogoria Flamingos
flamingo at lake bogoria

Although each of these lakes gives you the chance to see plenty of flamingos in their natural environment, from a photography perspective, it’s Lake Bogoria which provides the best opportunity for stunning photography set against a dramatic backdrop with countless flamingos usually arriving at this remarkable soda lake.

Between the months of September to December, lesser flamingos migrate to Lake Natron in Tanzania to breed and although the lake is so alkaline that it can burn skin and temperatures often reach between 40 degrees Celsius to 60 degrees Celsius, which makes it extremely inhospitable for most plants and animals - the flamingos thrive. They depend on this remote lake during their breeding season with up to 75% of the population congregating at the lake in a gloriously flamboyant flurry of pink with some experts calling it ‘the greatest ornithological spectacle on Earth’.

Where to stay

With a plethora of remote camps and lodges around the Great Rift Valley lakes, there's plenty of choices to suit everyone's requirements and budgets.

Loldia  House Flamingo Safari
Flamingo safari at loldia house

One of our favourite places to stay in Kenya near to these stunning lakes is Loldia House on the shores of Lake Naivasha and run by the well renowned Governors Camps. It offers beautiful views of the dormant volcano, Mount Longonot, wildlife roams free around the property. It's one of Kenya's oldest homesteads and you'll be made to feel incredibly welcome.

Find out more about Loldia House


Whale Migration – South Africa

South Africa may not immediately spring to mind when thinking about whale watching but it plays more than a passing bit part with nearly thirty species of whale and dolphins found around the coastline of southern Africa.

Humpback whales, southern right whales and a multitude of other Cetacea species travel north from the frigid, nutrient rich waters of the Antarctic towards the coast of South Africa. They’re following the continental shelf from the Western Cape, all the way up past Kwa Zulu Natal before heading between Mozambique and Madagascar as far north as Kenya to give birth in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.

Humpback whales have one of the longest recorded migrations of any mammal sometimes as far as 7000 km. The main reason for this epic migration is because their feeding grounds are too cold to calve with the warmer waters providing much more ambient birthing grounds

This beautiful migration of over 8000 humpback whales occurs for a few months between July and October each year and coincides with another marine migration known as the Sardine Run, where billions of sardines also travel north along the eastern coast of South Africa. There is no shortage of places to watch these magnificent mammals making their long journey along the coast of South Africa – and with our awesome guide about whale watching in South Africa, you’ll soon be in the know about the best places to go.

Complete guide to whale watching in South Africa

Where to stay

With so many key areas along the South African coastline to chose from for exceptional whale watching it can be a overwhelming, so I'll make a personal recommendation. Head to the Kwa Zulu Natal coastline and stay at Makakatana Bay Lodge close to the tranquil town of St. Lucia. The whale watching here is simply excellent and I've enjoyed many brilliant displays of humpback whales breaching and other exciting behaviours.

Makakatana  Bay Main Lodge
Makakatana Bay Lodge - St. Lucia, South Africa

Makakatana Bay Lodge offers game drives, boating in Lake St Lucia, and a swimming in the Indian Ocean, The lodge has a warm, family fun vibe and modern comforts and its contemporary timber architecture and the walls are adorned with the owner’s artwork.

Check out Makakatana Bay Lodge

Wildebeest Migration – Liuwa Plains, Zambia

The wildebeest migration to Liuwa Plains in Zambia is another one of Africa’s great natural phenomena that is scarcely known. This spells good news for safari afficionados as it means far fewer crowds than at the East African Masai Mara / Serengeti migration, and, some may argue, a more authentic experience.

West Zambia Liuwa Plains Wildlife Photography Wildebeest Migration Africa 1200X800
Wildebeest Migration - luiwa plains, zambia

Between 45,000 to 50,000 wildebeest migrate to fresh grazing plains in the remote Liuwa Plains National Park, making it the second-largest migration of wildebeest in the world.

The wildebeest migration follows the rains, reaching Liuwa Plains between September and November each year, so if you’re planning a visit to safari in Zambia, November would offer the best chance of seeing these huge herd grazing.

Zambia's wildebeest migration, if timed to perfection would work brilliantly as a compliment to the bat migration in Kasanka National Park which also occurs in November.

King Lewanika Camp
King Lewanika Camp, Luiwa Plans - Zambia

Where to stay

In Luiwa Plains you have the amazing opportunity to stay in Zambia's most exclusive camp - King Lewanika Camp. Located in one of the earliest protected areas in Africa, this luxury retreat has exclusive access to rare wildlife whilst having exclusive access to exploring areas of this unspoilt wilderness. If you're a keen birder, this camp is a certain hotspot for you to add to your now growing bucket list,

Bird Migrations

This migration isn’t country or species specific. It’s a migration which takes place throughout the African continent so it’s certainly worth mentioning.

As the colder winter months descend on the northern hemisphere, the warmer and wetter months of summer arrive in Africa, bringing with them an explosion of freshly seeding grass, trees blossom and bear fruit and insect life becomes abundant. All this brings countless migratory birds as they head south, in search of food, breeding and nesting grounds.

Ar Little Bee Eater
Little bee eater - mana pools, zimbabwe
European Roller
euopean roller
Steppe Buzzard
steppe buzzard

European rollers and European bee-eaters make their way from northern Europe, Steppe buzzards make the arduous flight from the plains of the Russian Steppe and Arctic terns make the phenomenal journey from the Antarctic passed the southern coastlines of South Africa, all the way up to the Arctic – a journey which they make twice a year. The pole-to-pole journey and back is over 90,000km. A truly remarkable feat.

If you’re a keen ‘birder’ - which, over the years I have unwittingly become, then a safari to Africa during the bird migratory season is an event not to be missed. By leading privately guided photography safaris through Uganda (gorillas were the focal point) and guiding in Kenya, I can safely say that my species count for East Africa is substantially larger.

Some of the best countries in East and Southern Africa to see bird migrations include; Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe

Find out more about bird watching holiday experiences with Far & Wild


If you would like to learn more about the wonderful migrations which occur throughout Africa - speak with one of our experienced Africa travel experts and we can help you create your ultimate wildlife experience.

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Looking for some more inspiration? Take a look at our best safari holidays ideas, our favourite family safaris, our big five safari guide or our top African safari honeymoon suggestions.

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