The Route

The Route of the Great Migration

Gnus im Ngorongoro Krater (c) Haplochromis CC BY SA 3.0The Great Migration starts in the plains of the Ngorongoro Crater, which is where the zebras, antelopes and gnus are born. It moves in a clockwise motion through the Serengeti Plains in Tanzania and the Masai Mara Reserve in Kenya, and then back again forming one big circle. It depends on the time of year when you can see the herds in the different regions.

Why Zebra and Wildebeest Migrate Together

Wildebeest are short grass grazers. Zebra have long front teeth and can sheer off the long grass. When entering a new area, zebra basically mow the lawn for the wildebeest to enjoy. Then they follow up nipping at the bits left behind.

Burchells Zebra (c) Rui Ornelas CC BY SA 2.0

Antilope_Aepyceros_melampus (c) Stig Nygaard CC BY SA 2.5

Black wildebeest aka gnu (c) Dodo gemeinfrei

Zebra have good memories and can remember the direction of the migration. They also know the best places to cross the rivers. Wildebeest tend to just jump in, which is why they are an easy prey for the hungry crocodiles. Zebra will watch an individual cross safely before they all charge in. Zebra have better eyesight and hearing so they are quicker to sound the alarm when a lion or hyena comes prowling around. Wildebeest can "smell" water. They need to drink at least every other day so they have a sixth sense of finding water.

The predators

The migratory routes through the graslands is the territory of the lions. They accompany the herds for a while to figure out the weak animals. The prey on gnus and zebras. The leopards wait in the branches of the acaccia trees for prey. The prey on antelopes and gazelles.

Jagende Löwinnen (c) farmgirl CC BY SA 2.0

Tüpfelhyäne (c) Jarekt CCBY SA 2.0

Gepard in der Serengeti (c) Joachim Huber CC BY SA 2.0

The herders have to protect their young also against the attacks of hyenas and jackals. Also vultures accompany the herds, they look out for the remains left behind by the hyenas and jackals.

Playgrounds and dangerous Crossings in Tanzania


By April/May the herds begin to migrate to the grassier plains of the Serengeti's western Corridor. The rain during this time of the year makes it difficult to follow the herds. By the end of May, as the rains stop, the wildebeest and zebra start moving north. Individual groups begin to congregate and form much larger herds. This is also the time the wildebeest mate. Western Serengeti is the best place to watch the migration unfold. By July the herds reach their first big obstacle, the Grumeti River. The Grumeti river can get deep in places, especially if the rains have been good. This is the first of the dangerous river crossings you can witness. Not all of the weak animals can cope with the strong currents of the river. That makes drowning a distinct possibility for them. There is another danger. Hungry crocodiles are lying in wait for any weak wildebeest or zebra that lose their mothers.

The Herds are well organized on their Hikes

Wildbeest herds have no leader. Zebra herds do. Each herd is led by an older, experienced stallion. The young and their mothers migrate in the center of the herd, protected by the older ones at the edges. This organisation helps to ensure, that most of the young survive the migration.

The Destination, the Grasslands in Kenya

After crossing the Grumeti River in Tanzania the wildebeest and zebra head to the Masai Mara. Before they get to the lush plains of the Mara, they have to make another river crossing. This time it's the Mara River and that too is filled with hungry crocodiles. As soon as they have crossed the second big river, they have reached their destination.


Gnus überqueren den Mara (c) Fiver Lücker CC BY SA 2.0 

Once on the grasslands of the Masai Mara, the wildebeest spend several months feeding once more. They are always able to find areas of good grazing, no matter how far apart. They can travel large distances very quickly. While the wildebeest are drawn into migrating by the needs of their stomachs. But it also helps them to survive, because they outmarch large numbers of predators. The predators are unable to follow the moving herds very far, for many are territorial and cannot abandon their territories. Moreover, the young of most predators are highly dependent upon their mothers, who can’t move very far from them.