Serengeti National Park
Serengeti National Park is undoubtedly the best-known wildlife sanctuary in the world, unequalled for its natural beauty and scientific value. Tanzania’s oldest and most popular national park, the Serengeti is famed for its annual migration, when some six million hooves pound the open plains, as more than 200,000 zebra and 300,000 Thomson’s gazelle join the wildebeest’s trek for fresh grazing. Yet even when the migration is quiet, the Serengeti offers arguably the most scintillating game-viewing in Africa: great herds of buffalo, smaller groups of elephant and giraffe, and thousands upon thousands of eland, topi, kongoni, impala and Grant’s gazelle.
The name ‘Serengeti’ comes from the Masai language and appropriately means an ‘extended place’. The National Park is as big as Northern Ireland, but its ecosystem, which includes the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the Maswa Game Reserve and the Masai Mara Game reserve (in Kenya), is roughly the size of Kuwait. It lies between the shores of Lake Victoria in the west, Lake Eyasi in the south, and the Great Rift Valley to the east. As such, it offers the most complex and least disturbed ecosystem on earth.
Serengeti National park covers 14,763 sq km of endless rolling plains, which reach up to the Kenyan border and extends almost to Lake Victoria. The park is teaming with stunning wildlife – it is thought that over 3 million large mammals roam the plains. In May or early June you can witness the annual migration of millions of zebra and wildebeest in search of water and forage as the seasons change.
The first professional hunters came in 1913. They found the wildlife plentiful, especially the lions, but saw no elephants. Seven years later, an American arrived in a strange new contraption known as a Ford motor-car and news of the wonders of the Serengeti had reached the outside world. Because the hunting of lions made them so scarse (they were considered ‘vermin’), it was decided to make a partial Game Reserve in the area in 1921 and a full one in 1929. With the growing awareness of the need for conservation, it was expanded and upgraded to a National Park in 1951. Eight years later the Ngorongoro Conservation Area was established in the south-east as a separate unit.
Fauna and Flora
Serengeti National Park has unique combination of diverse habitats enables it to support more than 30 species of large harbivores and nearly 500 species of birds. Its landscape, originally formed by volcanic activity, has been sculptured by the concerted action of wind, rain and sun. It now varies from open grass plains in the south, savannah with scattered acacia trees in the centre, hilly, wooded grassland in the north, to extensive woodland and black clay plains to the west. Small rivers, lakes and swamps are scattered throughout. In the south-east rise the great volcanic massifs and craters of the Ngorongoro Highlands. Each area has its own particular atmosphere and wildlife.
Large herds of antelope of all sorts including: Patterson’s eland, Klipspringer, Dikdik, impala, Zebra, gazelles, water, bush and reed buck, topi, kongoni, cotton’s oribi, grey bush duiker, roan antelope buffalo, and wildebeest. Lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena, bat eared fox, hunting dog and jackal. Smaller mammals: spring hare, porcupine, warthog, hyraxes, baboon, vervet monkey, colobus monkey, patas monkey, and mongooses. Larger mammals: giraffe, rhino, elephant, and hippopotamus. Nearly 500 species of birds, including vultures, storks, flamingoes, martial and fish eagles, ostrich era also available. Reptiles: crocodiles, a number of species of snakes and lizards.
The spectacle of predator versus prey dominates Tanzania’s greatest park. Golden-maned lion prides feast on the abundance of plain grazers. Solitary leopards haunt the acacia trees lining the Seronera River, while a high density of cheetahs prowls the southeastern plains. Almost uniquely, all three African jackal species occur here, alongside the spotted hyena and a host of more elusive small predators, ranging from the insectivorous aardwolf to the beautiful serval cat.
But there is more to Serengeti than large mammals. Gaudy agama lizards and rock hyraxes scuffle around the surfaces of the park’s isolated granite kopjes. A full 100 varieties of dung beetle have been recorded, as have 500-plus bird species, ranging from the outsized ostrich and bizarre secretary bird of the open grassland, to the black eagles that soar effortlessly above the Lobo Hills.
The Serengeti’s climate is usually warm and dry. The main rainy season is from March to May, with short rains falling from October to November. The amount of rainfall increases from about 508mm on the plains in the lee of the Ngorongoro Highlands to about 1,200mm on the shores of Lake Victoria. All is lush and green after the rains, but a gradual drying up follows which restricts plant growth and encourages the animals to migrate in search of permanent waters. With altitudes ranging from 920 to 1,850 metres – higher than most of Europe – mean temperatures vary from 15 degrees to 25 degrees Celsius. It is coldest from June to October, particularly in the evenings.
For centuries, the vast wilderness of the Serengeti Plains remained virtually unhabitated but about hundred years ago the nomadic Masai came down from the north with their cattle. The first European to set foot in the area was the German explorer and naturalist Dr. Oscar Baumann, who passed by as an agent of the German Anti-Slavery Committee on his way to Burundi. His compatriots who built Fort Ikoma in the north, which was used as an administrative centre until it fell to the British in 1917, followed him.
There are a number of lodges and camps to stay at in the Serengeti. Lodges: Seronera Wildlife Lodge, Lobo Wildlife Lodge, Ndutu Safari Lodge (near Olduvai Gorge) Serengeti Serena Lodge, and Serengeti Sopa Lodge. Camps: Kijesereshi Tented lodge just outside the camp south of Nsabaaka Gate (North West of the Park) and Migration camp around the Lobo area. There are public camp sites (very basic some without even water), 6 special camp sites and 12 wilderness camp sites.