Wildebeest are a large antelope uniquely found in Africa, from Kenya to Namibia. Their name is derived from the Afrikaans word for “wild beast.” It is interchangeable with gnu (pronounced “new”), a Khoisan word that is characteristically onomatopoetic in its similarity to the sound the animals make when casually grazing together. There are two species: the blue wildebeest, which gets its name from the quicksilver sheen of its hide, and the black wildebeest, which was brought to near extinction until their reintroduction into a small selection of nature reserves in South Africa, Eswatini, and Lesotho.
Wildebeest will be seen in most safari areas, but the concentrated migration known as the Great Migration is special to the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem of Tanzania and Kenya.
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Best Places to See Wildebeest on Safari
The migration is ever-continuing, and it is important to plan your visit to place yourself in a good location for the time of your travel to increase your chances of encountering the herds. The migration can be seen at any time of year, but there are two climax points that many people aim for: Calving Season and River Crossing Season.
During the calving season, typically from January to March, herds congregate in their largest numbers on the short grass plains of Ndutu in Tanzania. This is the best time to see tens of thousands of animals milling around together, as well as the irruption of new life with roughly 400,000 calves born in just three weeks. This in turn leads to tremendous predator viewing.
The other dramatic highlight is the most filmed spectacle in Africa, the migration crossings of the Mara River. Huge crocodiles lie in wait as the herds leap into the water and attempt to swim to the other side. Crossings tend to occur between July and October and can be seen almost daily, although they can require a great level of patience from the viewer as it can sometimes take hours for the herds to muster up the courage to cross.
Other Areas of Note
Liuwa Plains National Park of Zambia is one of the safari world’s hidden gems. Liuwa has the second largest migration of wildebeest with 30,000 moving seasonally in and out of the park in big numbers, creating twice-a-year peak opportunities to visit.
The Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania also has large numbers of wildebeest, as does Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Most major parks and safari areas will have wildebeest; however, large concentrations are not found outside of the Serengeti-Masai Mara ecosystem and Liuwa Plains.