You’ve booked your luxury lodge, polished the zoom lens of your shiny new SLR to perfection and scheduled a Range Rover to collect you from the airport, so all that’s left is to track down one of the world’s most incredible visual spectacles.
There are of course a huge raft of expert guides and tour operators on hand to help you track down the thundering hooves of 1.7 million wildebeest as they migrate across the Serengeti, but technology now allows you to be your own guide and make sure you’ve booked accommodation in just the right spots.
The HerdTracker App, developed by Discover Africa, monitors the massive migration of wildebeest in real time - along with around 470,000 gazelles and many thousands of thousands of other four-legged beasts, including around 260,000 zebra.
The app also notifies travellers on last-minute accommodation availability, aligned to the movement of the migrating animals – and has now been updated will all the relevant seasonal information and lodge accommodation en route. The real-time Google map is augmented by daily photo updates, as well as videos and information about the wildebeest herds' movements.
Discover Africa's East Africa safari manager, Carel Verhoef, has lived in the Serengeti for ten years and devised the app idea after observing the disappointment of travellers who missed significant portions of the migration, especially after spending hard-earned money on accommodation in the wrong places.
Now, by providing real-time updates of the migratory herds' precise location, the app reduces the amount of fear and uncertainty for travellers when planning and booking a migration safari, claim its makers.
Additionally, for those are able to travel at short notice, safaris can be booked just 1-4 weeks prior to travel and also select lodges that are closes to the herds – thus resulting in a much higher chance of being right at the epicentre of the migration action when on safari.
The updated app now has four times as many people contributing migration location updates, compared to when it launched, resulting in 95 percent coverage of the entire eco-system. Live updates and herd locations are based on data from the Serengeti itself, including input from pilots who fly over the Serengeti and Masai Mara, safari guides on the ground, Tanzania National Parks rangers, as well as safari lodges and mobile camps.
The newest HerdTracker update provider is Serengeti Balloon Safaris, who operate hot air balloon flights over the central, southern and northern Serengeti. They provide HerdTracker with unique aerial photos and low/slow flying video footage. Coastal Aviation is another aerial partner providing vital information to us, as where there are no roads they take to the sky to get updates on numbers and herd locations.
One of the key features of the app is the monthly herd migration prediction, overlaid on the map, that shows regular updates and a live feed of last-minute accommodation available online - ideal for spontaneous travellers.
"We've identified three periods; February, April and July/August - where travellers have the absolute best chance of experiencing the wildebeest migration,” said Verhoef. “The safaris have been scheduled for set dates and are 10-days each, ensuring enough time not only for numerous migration encounters, but also time to track down the Big Five and other unique species. The migration remains the main focus of all HerdTracker safaris, with each focusing on a different aspect of the annual migratory cycle.”
According to Verhoef, February is calving season but April is when the herds gather in their largest numbers, and July/August is when the much anticipated river-crossings happen. This year, Discover Africa is running two departures for each period, with limited numbers to “ensure an intimate and exclusive safari experience for guests.”
The specialist travel operator claims HerdTracker safaris are the first of their kind to use crowd-sourced migration movement data to determine the best areas and the right lodges to stay at for migration safaris at specific times of the year.
HerdTracker has also partnered with Ranger and Pollman's Safaris in East Africa and together have launched two new HerdTracker scheduled departures making use of Serengeti HerdTracker Explorer Camps that are strategically located to position travellers right where they should be.