January 19

Africa’s Greatest Animal Migrations

January 19, 2022

Our list of Africa's greatest animal migrations features a couple of surprises. You've more than likely heard about the Great Wildebeest Migration. However, a couple of other interesting migrations happen across the continent.

Great Wildebeest Migration in East Africa

Experience Africa's greatest spectacles

Africa's Greatest Migrations

From the depths of the ocean to open plains, Africa has many fascinating animal migrations. Here are a couple of our favourites that baffle even some of the greatest minds. 

1. The Bat Migration in Zambia

Every year, as October draws to an end, fruit bats (Eidolon helvum) congregate in Zambia's Kasanka National Park. As the weeks go by, more and more bats fly in from the Congo until a baffling eight million-plus bats have gathered in search of seed-rich fruits.  

Picture winged silhouettes clustered together as they flock to the trees. Thought to be one of the world's largest mammal migrations, this unusual swarm of activity in the sky as the sun sets is certainly a sight to behold! They aren't small either, as they can grow up to 23cm in size. 

It's a wonderfully chaotic sight as they sweep through the plains, feasting on the fruit. Still a bit of a hidden secret to many across the globe, it's certainly a unique experience worth adding to your African safari itinerary. 

Bats flocking together during the bat migration in Zambia

An unusual sight as bats gather in Zambia

Why Does it Happen?

Although the reason behind this behaviour is still unclear, it's believed that, during the time of their trip, the females are either pregnant or nursing their little ones. Therefore, it's necessary for them to find enough nutrition from the wild fruits to help them bring the next generation into the world. 

Where to Stay to See the Bat Migration

There are many luxury lodges you can stay at in Lower Zambezi National Park and South Luangwa National Park that can organise for you to see the bats. Our Travel Experts can help tailor-make the perfect safari that includes all the highlights the area has to offer.

Anabezi Lodge - Lower Zambezi NP - Zambia

Anabezi Lodge in Lower Zambezi National Park is a gateway to endless discovery, image Credit: Anabezi

When to See the Bat Migration

The bat migration generally takes place over 90 days. They start to gather from around the end of October, and by the end of December, they are mostly gone. Therefore, the best time to see the bat migration is from mid-October to mid-December. 

2. The Great Zebra Migration in Botswana

Known as the longest big-mammal migration in Africa and largest in Southern Africa, the zebra migration takes place across the Okavango Delta and Makgadikgadi Pans. This is when around 30,000 zebras traverse across a whopping 500 kilometres in a linear line.

Picture thousands of dizzying stripes kicking up a cloud of dust as they parade across the plains, grazing as they go. This unusual event that's one of the more unknown migrations in Africa, takes place twice a year as they first move south and then turn around to head back north. 

Zebra migration in Botswana

Zebras on the move, image credit: Mombo Camp

Why Does it Happen?

This interesting behaviour can be attributed to them moving with the seasons to follow the rainfall and, therefore, grazing land for them to feast on. 

Where to Stay to See the Zebra Migration

The best place to see the zebra migration is in Botswana's Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. And Meno a Kwena Tented Camp is one of the best places to stay in order to see the zebra migration. 

When to See the Zebra Migration

The Migration takes place during the wet summer months. So, if you want to see them in the Makgadikgadi Pans, plan your trip around December to January or March to April when the zebras are arriving and departing. 

Meno a Kwena Camp in Botswana, one of the Royal Family's favourite places to stay in Africa

Meno a Kwena Camp in Botswana, one of the Royal Family's favourite places to stay in Africa, image credit: Meno a Kwena

3. The Sardine Migration in South Africa 

The sardine migration, also known as the sardine run, happens seasonally on the eastern coastline to the south coast of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa before they journey further east into the Indian Ocean.

Known as the world's greatest marine migration, millions of tiny sardine fish (Sardinops Sagax) make their annual migration. This attracts many locals and tourists alike to take a peek under and above water to admire its wonders. From scuba divers to boats, everyone wants to head out to explore the deep blue sea. In fact, there's an annual Sardine Festival to celebrate the event. 

The sardines also attract sharks, dolphins, penguins and other sea creatures, creating quite a frenzy in the ocean. In fact, it's so spectacular that it got quite a lot of screen time in the first BBC's Blue Planet

Sardine colony during sardine migration in KwaZulu-Natal

A dazzling sight as sardines go on their annual journey

Why Does it Happen?

The sardine migration is caused by a cold coastal current that travels north from Agulhas to Mozambique, which causes them to follow this stream. This, in turn, attracts other ocean creatures as they try to get a bite of this feast on the move. 

Where to Stay to See the Sardine Migration

There are several accommodation options on KwaZulu-Natal's coast where you can stay to witness the show. If you book with our Rhino Africa Travel Experts, we'll ensure that we book the best place at the right time for you to get the best experience. 

When to See the Sardine Migration

The sardine migration takes place during the winter, from around May to July. 

4. The Great Wildebeest Migration in Kenya and Tanzania 

Of course, we have to end our list with Africa's number one wildlife spectacle. The Great Wildebeest Migration is the most popular and largest mammal migration on earth. If you think you haven't heard of it yet, just think back to that tear-jerking scene in The Lion King when Scar drops Mufasa in a stampede of wildebeest. 

It is listed as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa, the plains flooding not only with more than 1.7 million wildebeest but with other animals like gazelle and predators following suit. This means that it's like a real blockbuster movie, with drama and action that will keep you on the edge of your safari seat! 

The wildebeest have to go through many obstacles, such as crossing rivers, which means it's quite literally survival of the fittest.

This Great Migration Safari is one of the ultimate bucket-list experiences

The Great Migration is an astonishing showcase of Africa's wildlife

Why Does it Happen?

The wildebeest migrate in search of greener pastures, so their movement is guided by the rainfall. 

Where to Stay to See the Great Migration

Where you stay to see the Great Migration directly affects your experience, so choose carefully. To catch the Great Migration when it's in Tanzania, we recommend that you stay at Sanctuary Kichakani, Serengeti Migration Camp or Rekero Camp.

When looking for a place to see the Great Migration in Kenya, we suggest you stay at Sanctuary Olonana, &Beyond Kichwa Tembo or Angama Mara

Incredible views from the deck at the Elewana Serengeti Migration Camp

The perfect view, image credit: Elewana Serengeti Migration Camp

When to See the Great Migration

The Great Migration generally takes place over the same period every year. Because it's a journey and does not take place in one place, when and where you stay is very important. 

From December to July, the herds migrate through Tanzania. They then cross over to Kenya from around August to December. It's very important that you book with a Travel Expert to ensure that you don't miss this great spectacle. 

See Africa's Greatest Animal Migrations

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About the author 

Tania de Kock

Tania has always been an avid reader, which ultimately led to her life-long dream of becoming a best-selling author. She loves travelling, super spicy food, South African wine, and cats! When she's not reading with a glass of wine, you can find her at the nearest beach or camping, running or hiking in the mountains.

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