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A guide to East Africa's Great Migration

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15 April 2011

Each week Luke McCormick, Wexas Channel Editor, provides an inside look at the latest headlines and gives his independent, expert comment.

Masai Mara

This week: A guide to East Africa's Great Migration

The Great Migration

WildebeestThe best time to go on safari in East Africa is in the summer, when you have the best chance of witnessing the Great Migration.

The annual migration takes place from June to October when millions of migratory wildebeest, gazelle, zebra and eland make the journey from the dry plains of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania across the Kenyan border into the Masai Mara in search of greener pastures.

The Masai Mara is a natural extension of the Serengeti National Park and one of the most iconic sights of the migration must be the herds of wildebeest crossing the Mara River while at the same trying to avoid predators.

The Great Migration is the largest mass movement of animals on the planet, and the seething mass is a sight to behold, even before you add the resident populations of topi, impala, buffalo, gazelle, kongoni, giraffe, warthog, waterbuck and elephant. Adding to the drama of this extraordinary spectacle is the host of hungry predators lying in wait for these herbivores, notably crocodile, lion, hyena, cheetah, leopard, wild dog and jackal.

Serengeti National Park, Tanzania 

LionThe Serengeti's ecosystem is one of the oldest on earth and now two World Heritage Sites and two Biosphere Reserves have been established in the region beneath the stunning backdrop of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Over a million wildebeest move in a circular route from the hills in the north to the plains in the south for the short rains every October and November, before moving west and then north after the long rains in April, May and June.

In June they cross the Grumeti river, braving the crocodile infested waters, then make their way through the Grumeti Reserve in July before heading north towards the Kenyan border. 

Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya 

Masai MaraThe Masai Mara is one of the best places in Africa to view game, particularly the Big 5, and boasts prolific bird life. This park is located in the Great Rift Valley in Southern Kenya and is named after the indigenous Masai tribe and also the Mara River, which runs through the park.

The best time to see the migration in Kenya is in July and August when the animals cross the Mara River. The weather is also at its best at this time of year, being generally dry with very pleasant temperatures. Other activities in the Masai Mara include hot-air ballooning and visits to local Masai villages.

Game drives

While planning your trip in Kenya or Tanzania you can opt for a seat-in vehicle safari, which offers the most value, where you will share your experience with other like-minded travellers.

KichecheGame drives are the foundation of most safaris and can be done at any time of day. Generally though early morning, mid morning and late afternoon are the best times, with a break early on for breakfast and another in the middle of the day for lunch.

You could also opt for a private safari, which is tailor made to suit your needs and offers much more flexibility. You can, for example, choose your game drive times on a private safari.

A few key accessories can greatly enhance your safari experience. Field guides depict flora and fauna specific to the area, alongside identification pointers and distribution maps.

A high-quality SLR camera with a 100-400mm zooms lens and collapsible tripod will allow you to capture wildlife. If you don't want the burden of a tripod you could also take a beanbag to rest on the edge of the vehicle for stability. A pair of quality binoculars will ensure make the best of the wildlife spotting opportunities available.

A perfect end to a safari in East Africa is a relaxing week on the beach lapping up the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. Take a short flight to the Mombasa coast or Lamu Island in Kenya, or enjoy a week of unwinding on the tropical paradise island of Zanzibar.

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