The Serengeti National Park
Tanzania’s oldest and most popular national park is The Serengeti NP. It is a world heritage site and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The Serengeti is arguably the most scintillating game-viewing sites in all of Africa, including big mammals and cats and an amazing variety of herbaceous and carnivorous animals. It is also the native lands of the Maasai who have lived there for millennia herding their cattle.
How the Serengeti as Formed
Tanzania’s Serengeti ecosystem includes the Maasai Mara in Kenya. 75% of this unique ecosystem is in Tanzania. Its lush green ocean of green grasses is 5,700 sq miles (14,750 sq km). These grasses are the result of volcanic eruptions in the Ngorongoro area 3 million years ago. It spread volcanic ashes throughout the wide area now known as the Serengeti plains. These ashes had high concentrations of phosphorous creating the mineral rich fertile soils covering a vast area growing short green grasses that support millions of wildlife. The Serengeti Supports Huge Numbers of Wildlife.
The Great Migration
The bulk of the 3 million animal herd participating in the Great Migration are wildebeest. Wildebeest thrive on the short grasses with high concentrations of phosphorous as every cell of their body contains phosphorous. The Great Migration also includes zebras, antelopes and other species that circulate in a clockwise direction following water sources on an 1,800 mile annually trek. During the fall rains is calving season when 250,000 wildebeest calves are born over a 3-week period in the southern Serengeti. They graze on these grasses in preparation for the next stage of their migration to the northwest Serengeti that begins in the early spring.
October – December
The migration is making its way from the Maasai Mara in the northern Serengeti region to southern Serengeti along its eastern border formed by the Great Rift Valley escarpment to begin its calving season. Once the herd arrives in the southwestern Serengeti,“calving season” begins when the wildebeest give birth to a quarter million newborns during a three-week period. It is a great time to see the drama of the hunt, as predatory animals seek their babies. The short rains occur from November-December. Kusini Camp is on the wildebeest migration path where they congregate on Kusini’s grassy plains during calving season. The southern Serengeti has specific areas that provide exceptional views of the Great Migration such as the Moru Kopjes where the rare black rhino migrate this time of year and see Maasai rock paintings. It is also an exceptional location for viewing cheetahs, as is Gol Kopjes where fresh green grasses attract cheetahs. Lake Ndutu, one of the Rift Valley’s soda lakes, attracts flamingos that nest in its waters. It also has stunning acacia woodlands where a variety of animal species hunt within this eco-system.
January – March
During this time of year, the Great Migration is scattered between southern Serengeti and Ndutu in the Ngorongoro side. This time of the year is also a calving season where by the wildebeests give birth.
April – May
This period includes the long heavy rainy season when many camps are closed in the southwestern and central Serengeti. In the central Serengeti, the Great Migration must defend itself against large prides of lions, leopards, and cheetahs located in this area.
Around 800,000 zebras along with antelopes in the western Serengeti region join the Great Migration of about 1.8 million wildebeest. This is one of the most exciting and breathtaking times to view the Great Migration, as the massive herds of animals attempt to cross the Grumeti River that is filled with hungry crocodiles. As the baby wildebeest and zebras are still young, they make easy prey for the huge crocodiles that waiting in the Grumeti River’s turbulent rushing waters. Many animals drown as they cross the Grumeti, getting pulled downstream by rushing currents heading westward towards Lake Victoria.
July – September
During these months, the migration has made its way to the northwestern region of the Serengeti located in southwestern Kenya called the “Maasai Mara.” It is an amazingly beautiful sight at to see the migration cross the famous Mara River.
Other Wildlife Species in the Serengeti
The Serengeti is the natural habitat of the Big Five (rhino, elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard), giraffe, 400 species of birds, hippos, gazelle, jackal, hare, dik-dik , mongoose, warthog, hedgehog, cheetah, waterbuck, hartebeest,ostrich and crocodile.
Where the southern Serengeti plains meet the central Serengeti woodlands are a mixture of diverse species. This includes predatory carnivorous animals, big cats and hyenas. The Seronera River in the central region is the habitat of the famous tree lion, tree climbing leopards and prides of lions. All of these animals have their own natural predators and prey.
The Serengeti Food Chain
The food chain in the Serengeti works like this : The lion is “king” as it is stronger and it’s teeth are sharper than its competitors or prey. If a cougar or a leopard are having a one-on-one face off the lion, the wins. Because of this, these carnivores hunt lions in teams. The individual lion is not king over the elephant. It is afraid of the elephant because of its the overwhelmingly size, weight and elephant tusks can spear or throw a lion though the air. The only way lions can kill an elephant is by hunting strategically in teams. The collective weight of several lions can bring down an elephant. Lions treat the giraffe with deference as a giraffe kick can kill any animal. Due to the individual strengths, sizes and abilities of the various big mammal species in the Serengeti, each has a cautionary respect for the other. Because of this, these varieties of animals live in relative harmony with one another and even share the same water holes, except when they are hungry.
Serengeti High Seasons
The Serengeti is inviting to visitors all year long. Even during its short rainy season (November-December) and long rainy season (March-May), it provides the opportunity to see spectacular views of the Big Five and the annual Great Migration. Throughout the year, visitors will enjoy vast majestic scenic landscapes and the tribal peoples who consider the Serengeti their home.
The Moru Kopjes in the Central Serengeti are rocky outcroppings used by lions and other predatory animals as look out points to locate game. The Kopjes are piles of ancient granite rocks that have been poking through the flat Serengeti surface for over 500 million years.
Ndutu, in the southeastern part of the Serengeti ecosystem is known for having all six species of big cats year round: Lion, Serval, Cheetah, African Wildcat, Leopard and Caracal. It’s a great place for big cat lovers . Just 18 km from Olduvai Gorge, Ndutu is the location where Mary Leakey located the oldest complete human skeleton dating back 1.8 million years ago.
The Ngong Rock is a white rock made of a completely different geological material than others in the area. The rock may be a meteorite from a comet. Located on one of the Serengeti’s Kopjes, it is the world’s oldest musical instrument. It has a metallic sounding ping when tapped on. This sound travels long distances. The Maasai have used the Ngong Rock since ancient times to communicate with other Maasai in locations far away. It has pitted with indentations on it showing how early man communicated with one another and created music playing simple melodies.
Maasai Rock Paintings
In the central Serengeti are a series of natural rocky shelters that protect ancient paintings. These paintings depict the people, animals, symbols and Maasai rituals painted with red ochre, black or white kaolin based paint.
In the southern Serengeti region, visitors can explore the endless Serengeti Plain watching the calving of the wildebeest, visit Olduvai Gorge: archeological site of Louis and Mary Leakey, see the Moru Kopjes famous for the endangered black rhino and Maasai rock paintings. In the western region, Lake Victoria invites exploration and fishing. One of the greatest natural spectacles on earth occurs in the western Serengeti June-July when the Great Migration crosses the Grumeti and Kirawira Rivers that are filled with hungry crocodiles as the migration follows its northern to northwestern course. From the northern highlands of the Serengeti guests will see the famous Mara River and its huge crocodiles. In the northwest, Ikoma, the visitors can enjoy the walking safari and night game drive. Serengeti NP also offers Balloon Safari throughout the year.