By Warren Glam – Content Writer
Rain makes East Africa a land of plenty, where grazing is good and predators have meat to ease their hunger. When the rains dry up, fearful and fierce alike must scrap to survive the stricken landscape. All told, the passage of life is as cruel as it is beautiful.
What you experience on safari depends on when you enter the flow. Here’s a breakdown of the region’s ancient rhythms, and what you may see every month.
January: The Beginning
Calving seasons begins in late January, with zebra, wildebeest and antelope delivering their offspring in a landscape made green by the ‘short’ rains. As ever, birds call to each other over Tanzania’s plains, rippling the surface of a timeless quiet. This is a period of ease on the savanna.
January falls in Kenya’s wet season, though it lies outside the region’s ‘long’ and ‘short’ rain periods. Consequently, there’ll be less rain and some striking landscapes. Also, higher temperatures mean that clear, hot days are in the offing. Visibility should be perfect for wildlife viewing.
February: The Young
Millions of wildebeest gather to graze and birth around 400 000 calves on the Serengeti. Naturally, big cats and other predators are never far away. European migratory birds also arrive during February, dotting the region in their various colours.
Kenya’s climate is relatively dry and clear. In these conditions, it’s easier to view the tense relations between the country’s animals. Watering-hole stops are especially revealing in this regard. On a good day, elephants may play in shallows surrounded by gargoyle-like crocodiles.
March: The Final Days of Ease
The Serengeti is still green during March, with vast herds of wildebeest and zebra consuming tremendous amounts of grass ahead of the Great Migration. Rain is likely at this time of year, meaning animals can be harder to spot.
Kenya welcomes the start of its ‘long’ rainy season towards the end of March. Grasses will be at their shortest before the heavy rains arrive, making wildlife viewing easier.
April: The Flood
The ‘long’ rains continue in Tanzania. Along with southern and western parks being particularly humid and uncomfortable, flourishing foliage conceals animals. Still, a great many predators and herbivores remain, thanks to the abundance of water.
In Kenya, the deluge arrives in April. Frequent, moody storms mean elephants are less likely to bathe in watering holes, as the rain and cooler climate will balance their temperatures well enough. Also, other game may seek shelter out of the open. The fun lies in finding them.
Truth be told, driving around the Mara during April is more challenging. That said, some nature lovers crave this sort of adventure.
May: The Northern March
The dry season starts in May, as does the northward leg of the migration. Tanzania is stifling, meaning the occasional afternoon or evening thundershower is most welcome. Against this, wildlife viewing can be outstanding, with great herds trekking through the Serengeti’s central and western areas.
The ‘long’ rains continue across many parts of Kenya. Seasoned safari goers may relish a taste of the country’s primal energy.
June: The Change
Parks and woodlands dry out in Tanzania, though they’re not completely barren yet. All things considered, it’s an excellent time for game viewing in the Serengeti, especially in the northernmost regions. Perhaps most significantly, wildebeest cross the Grumeti River in their thousands, running a gauntlet of ravenous crocodiles. The spectacle is violent, desperate and unforgettable.
In Kenya, the climate is cooler and less humid in June, making it a good time to travel with children.
July: The Herds Enter Kenya
July is Tanzania’s driest month. As dust clouds surface during drives, it’s worth packing sunglasses and perhaps a light scarf.
From a viewing perspective, animals will gather in the woodlands and around whatever permanent water sources they can find. Sparse foliage makes spotting big cats and other elusive wildlife easier. The Great Migration moves through the Serengeti’s pristine north.
July normally features the Great Migration’s Mara River crossing, when thousands of wildebeest and zebra trudge over Tanzania’s northern border. For this reason, July is one of the best times to visit Kenya. Big cats, crocodiles, and other predators will also be around, thinning the herds in their savage ways.
August: The Cruel South
Tanzania’s waterholes dwindle from muddy beds to dusty bowls in August. Wildebeest and zebra will have marched to Kenya, though other animals and predators will still be present. This is a beautiful but delicate moment in the Serengeti.
Up north, the herds will have endured wild river crossings and settled on Kenya’s healthy plains.
September: The Return
As the season shifts, wildebeest and zebra may head south to Tanzania, crossing the Maasai Mara between September and November. Much depends on water levels and rainfall.
The march into Kenya may continue until month’s end when the window closes.
October: Winter’s End
With rain on the horizon, migrating herds return to the Serengeti’s rejuvenated grasses. Kenya’s southeastern Maasai Mara and Tanzania’s northeastern Serengeti are the best places to see them.
Also, conditions are milder in Tanzania as spring returns. Because of this, October may be a good time to visit with children.
November: Southern Rain
Storm clouds stir in November, calling herds to the Serengeti. As always, predators will follow, alert to weakness and opportunity.
The ‘short’ rains generally last for a few weeks in Kenya, with migratory birds swelling the wildlife population.
December: The Cycle Continues
Vast herds of wildebeest gather on Tanzania’s savanna during December, with the low grass making them easier to see. Heavily pregnant cows will graze ahead of the next birthing season. Born of hardship, it is a marvellous period of renewal.
The drier part of the season begins in Kenya and will last until March. Following the ‘short’ rains, clear blue skies light a dramatically green landscape. Wildlife may be more difficult to spot, but experienced guides will know where to look.