The world’s wildest migrations

Feast your eyes on the world’s most epic journeys – the wild animal migrations.
Caribous travel to forested areas.
A journey that can span more than 3,000 miles. © Getty Images/Minden Pictures RM
By Sam Ryder

It's easy to forget that the most incredible journeys undertaken around the world are not made by humans. From salmon that swim hundreds of miles upriver to herds that trek for weeks across the tundra to sharks that cross oceans – it's a reminder of nature's power to inspire and fill us with awe.

The croc-infested river battle

What: Blue Wildebeest migration
Where: Kenya / Tanzania
When: July-October

The annual crossing of the Mara river by huge herds of wildebeest is one of nature's most awesome spectacles. Over two million animals migrate from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the greener pastures of the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya during July through to October. But it's no simple crossing. The wildebeest have to run the gauntlet of crocodiles lying in wait. Their fights can be ferocious – and not always one-sided.

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The wildebeest herd crossing the Mara River.
Wildebeest migrating, seeking fresh grazing © Getty Images/Mint Images RM

Sardine run

What: Sardine migration
Where: South Africa
When: May-July

The sardine run is an epic migration of millions of fish along the coast of South Africa. Billions of sardines spawn in the cool waters and move northeast along South Africa's southern coastline between the months of May and July.

Visible even by satellite, these famous sardine shoals travel in shoals that stretch for up to 15km in length, 3.5km wide and nearly 40m deep.

Schools of Sardines swimming through the Southern African sea.
Sardine run © Davide Lopresti

The march of the red army

What: Migration of red crab
Where: Christmas Island, Australia
When: October-November

One of the greatest animal migrations is the seasonal movement of the red crab across Australia's Christmas Island. At the beginning of the wet season around October / November millions of red crabs make the journey from forest to the coast to breed and release their eggs into the sea.

The timing of the migration breeding sequence is linked to the phases of the moon, so that eggs may be released by the female Red Crabs into the sea precisely at the turn of the high tide during the last quarter of the moon. The migration can last up to 18 days, which makes it an incredible spectacle.

Christmas Island Red Crab (Gecarcoidea natalis) females with eggs walking down a path to the sea, Christmas Island, Australia.
Breeding migration of red crabs © Getty Images/Minden Pictures RM

The trek across the tundra

What: Caribou migration
Where: Alaska
When: All-year

The caribou, known as reindeer in Europe, make up one of the world's largest animal migrations. Herds travel up to 1,000km in summer as they head north in search of the rich eating grounds of the tundra.

It's the females who lead the way, while the males follow with the yearling calves born the previous season. In winter, when temperatures can plummet to -50°C the caribou heads south of the treeline.

Caribous travel to forested areas.
A journey that can span more than 5,000km. © Getty Images/Minden Pictures RM

The ocean wanderer

What: Circumnavigation
Where: Southern Ocean
When: All-year

There can be no other bird or mammal that inspires as much pity and awe as the wandering albatross which spends most of its life in flight, landing only to breed and feed. During its lifetime it will fly hundreds of thousands of kilometres.

An albatross will also mate for life, returning to find its love every two years – the ultimate long distance relationship.

Wandering albatross in flight, Diomedea exulans, Kaikoura, New Zealand
The albatross has an impressive wingspan © Getty Images/Mint Images RM

Bat mobile

What: African bat run
Where: Zambia
When: October-December

One of the greatest and more surprising animal migrations on the planet, is the flight of around eight million bats to Kasanka National Park in Northern Zambia.

It's the world's largest mammalian migration. The bats arrive from the Congo to feed on the wild musuku fruits in Zambia, providing an incredible spectacle in the sky.

Millions of bats in the air.
Bat migration in Kasanka National Park © Getty Images/National Geographic Creative

The long distance swimmer

What: Great white shark migration
Where: Southern Ocean
When: All-year

Sharks tend to get a poor press, cropping up in newspaper reports only when they've mistaken a surfer or hapless honeymooner for a seal meal. Attacks on humans are actually very rare but that hasn't stopped them being demonised.

But their trans-oceanic journeys are actually among the most awe-inspiring of any creature. One great white was tagged swimming 12,000km from South Africa to Australia and back in nine months.

The white shark is travelling thousands of miles every year.
The great white shark is a long distance traveller © Getty Images

Fish out of water

What: Salmon river run
Where: Worldwide
When: Varies

One of the most remarkable journeys of the world is that undertaken by wild salmon. After spending years wandering the oceans, they'll return to the river in which they were spawned, using a combination of magnetic perception and smell to locate it.

If that wasn't incredible enough, they also swim thousands of kilometres through inland rivers and can gain up to 2,000m in altitude. The salmon run is an event eagerly anticipated by other mammals, like fishermen – and bears. 


The Salmons are swimming upstream.
Swimming upstream © Getty Images/Vetta
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