Grumeti River Wildebeest Crossing
More than two million animals, predominantly wildebeest, migrate from Tanzania to Kenya and back every year in search of water and grazing. The fording of rivers like the Grumeti is the culmination of Africa’s greatest natural theatre.
The story begins in December in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area’s Ndutu region and the Southern Serengeti grasslands, when nearly half a million wildebeest calves are born between February and March. The herd begins their long journey northwards once the calves are strong enough. The majority of the herds will turn west from the central Serengeti, and by June, the first will arrive at the Grumeti River in the Western Corridor.
The Western Corridor is a scenic and remote area made up of savannah grasslands, riverine woodland, rolling hills, and shady acacia trees. It is home to a good range of wildlife year round, such as elephants, lions, leopards, giraffes, and cheetahs.
In late May and June, the herds congregate in large numbers near the river’s pools and channels. Each migrating animal must first traverse the crocodile-infested river, in what will be the first of many terrifying river encounters. The herds mass, bunching along the river’s edge, waiting for one brave soul to take the plunge into the water.
Sometimes they group only to lose courage and disperse again, but inexorably they are drawn back, and suddenly, climacticly, one tests the waters and the others surge behind, in a mass of dust and leaping bodies. The air is filled with the noise of thousands of “gnu”ing wildebeest. The unlucky fall prey to lurking crocodiles who lie in wait for this very moment. It’s a photographic odyssey where scenes of vibrant, striving life come into stark contrast with the menace of the crocodiles.
There are several advantages to the Grumeti River crossings as opposed to the Mara River crossings. The first is that, due to the time of year that the herds arrive in this area, you can take advantage of the lower costs of the shoulder season. Safaris are a terrific value, and wildlife watching is still superb. The second is that the area’s remoteness means fewer visitors to the area and fewer vehicles at sightings and river crossings. The nearby Grumeti Reserve also offers the chance to explore the area on foot and is one of the few places in the Serengeti where a walking safari is allowed.
The Grumeti River crossings normally take place within a one-or two-week window in June, although the exact timing is tough to forecast because the migration follows the rains, which fluctuate year to year. Witnessing the Great Migration is an emotional event that cannot be truly conveyed by words or photographs, regardless of whether you see a crossing.