The Serengeti was the first World Heritage site selected by UN delegates in Stockholm in 1972.
The Serengeti is one of Africa’s and indeed the world’s most famous and fascinating wildlife conservation areas. Outsiders once knew it more commonly as Maasailand a reference to the proud warrior people, the Maasai that have always lived in this ecologically diverse region, alongside the abundant wildlife. The name Serengeti is an adaptation of the Maasai name for the area, siringet, which loosely translated means ‘the place where the land continues forever’. A small section of the Serengeti was first gazetted as a game reserve in 1921 to protect the lions that were being hunted, before its upgrade to a full national park in 1951.
Today, the Serengeti covers a remote and expansive area mainly in Northern Tanzania, extending into Southwestern Kenya where it is known as the Maasai Mara, with everything from rivers, rolling plains, hills and forests. A safari in the Serengeti will almost always take in the famous annual migration of over 2 million white-bearded wildebeest, but the area also boasts abundant wildlife and offers some of the best and most luxurious game viewing in Africa.
Naturally, the ‘Big 5’ are the most popular and the Serengeti does not disappoint. It is believed to hold the largest population of lions in Africa, about 3,000; at least 1,000 leopards, over 5,000 elephants, a few of the eastern black rhinos and the most numerous of the ‘Big 5’, over 50,000 African buffaloes.
The area also has over 500,000 Thomson and Grant’s gazelles, tens of thousands of topi, giraffes, waterbucks, impala and hippo, and about 500 species of birds. The best game viewing areas in the Serengeti are the almost treeless short grass plains with their granite kopjes in the south, where most of the grazers and the predators that hunt them can be found.
While on safari in the Serengeti, it is worthwhile to explore the rich culture and heritage of the area’s people, the Maasai, and Olduvai Gorge, the site where some of the oldest human fossils were unearthed in 19.
”I have lived in the Serengeti for more than 20 years, but flying over the long lines of migrating wildebeest or watching them gather before a river crossing, still takes my breath away and makes my heart pound. Nowhere in the world can we watch such a spectacular scene, nowhere do we have such a large number and diversity of large mammals.Dr. Markus BornerFrankfurt Zoological Society
The Great Migration
Every year, the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ is staged inside the Serengeti and the Maasai Mara; over 2million wildebeest, accompanied by over 200,000 zebras cross the Serengeti into the Maasai Mara in Kenya on an endless chase after the rains and green pasture, in a race for life itself. The Serengeti Wildebeest Migration is the largest terrestrial mammal migration in the world that has been going on in this region of Tanzania long before any of the present day human inhabitants settled in the area. This spectacular wildlife event is almost entirely dependent on the rainfall pattern of the region, and typically the wildebeest follow a predictable path as they head north over 800kms. At least 250,000 wildebeest die every year on the long journey from the Serengeti plains to the Maasai Mara from thirst, starvation, exhaustion, or as victims to the many predators that lie in wait on the ground and in the rivers. Watching over 2million animals on the move, particularly at the river crossings makes for dramatic viewing and everyone who gets to a chance to experience this is eternally touched by its magic.
December – April
The annual cycle starts on the short-grass plains in the southern extremes of Serengeti National Park into the Ndutu area of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The high volcanic content of the soils in this area produce highly nutritious grass ripened by the arrival of the rains, which provides the best nutrition for the wildebeest and their newborns that arrive within a short 2-3 week period in mid-February when about 8,000 wildebeest are born every day for 3 weeks. The herds linger on this rich grass until the end of April when the rains reduce, the lands dry up and the wildebeest and zebras gradually spread west across the plains towards Lake Victoria, before starting their epic journey north.
May – June
By May, the main herd has usually crossed into the Moru Kopjes and Seronera Valley areas of Serengeti National Park, continuing on a northwestern route. The gathering of the herds here can be quite chaotic with a series of moving columns of hundreds of thousands of wildebeest joined by zebra, Thomson and Grant gazelles. The herds congregate at the south side of the Grumeti River by the start of June only crossing the river when they have built up to a high density. This river presents the first obstacle for the wildebeest and zebras as they encounter enormous Nile crocodiles lying in wait to catch a bite.
July – October
In July the herds continue northwards passing through the Grumeti Game Reserve in the west, and alternately across the north of the Serengeti National Park before arriving at the Mara River, the area’s permanent water source. It is here that the greatest spectacle of the migration that is the stuff of wildlife documentaries can be witnessed – the animals making a frantic dash across the gushing river as they try to elude the massive Nile crocodiles for whom the migration is one giant annual buffet ready for them to dig into. With millions of animals making it across the river to the fresh grasses, it is not uncommon to watch river crossings daily over several days, and often times the herd crosses back and forth over the river, following the rains and the resultant fresh grass.
By August, most of the herd has made it into the Maasai Mara in Kenya where it settles for the rest of the dry season, until October.
In early November, with the start of the short rains, the wildebeest herds start moving south again, taking the southeastern route through Western Lolindo and the Serengeti National Park’s Lobo area. By December, the herds emerge from the northern woodland area of Serengeti National Park in time to catch the monsoon rains and the lush grass in the Serengeti plains in the extreme south – just in tome for calving in February.