Northern National Parks
SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK
The Serengeti is Tanzania’s largest and most famous park, and it has the largest concentration of migratory game animals in the world. It is also famous for its huge lion population and is one of the best places on the continent to see them. The park has received additional notoriety through Professor Bernard Grzimek’s book, Serengeti Shall Not Die (Hamish Hamilton) and the feature film Serengeti (IMAX).
Serengeti is derived from the Masai language and appropriately means “endless plain”. The park’s 5,700 square miles (14,763 km2) makes it larger that the state of Connectitut. Altitude varies from 3,120 to 6,070feet (950 to 1,850 m).
The park, a World Heritage Site, comprises most of the Serengeti ecosystem, which is the primary migration route of the wildebeest. The Serengeti ecosystem also includes Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve, bordering on the north; the Loliondo Controlled Area, bordering on the northeast; the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, bordering the southeast; Maswa Game Reserve, bordering on the southwest; and the Grumeti and Ikorongoro Controlled Area, bordering on the northwest. The “western corridor” of the park comes withing 5 miles (8 km) of Lake Victoria.
Nearly 500 species of birds and 35 species of large plains animals can be found in the Serengeti. The park may contain as many as 1,5 million wildebeest, 500,000 zebra, 300,000 Grant’s gazelle, 250,000 Thomson’s gazelle, 120,000 impala, 70,000 topi, 20,000 buffalo, 9,000 eland, 8,000 giraffe, 1,000 lion and 800 elephant.
Most of the Serengeti is a vast, open plain broken by rocky outcrops (kopjes). There is also acacia savannah, savannah woodland, riverine forests, some swamps and small lakes.
The north is more hilly, with thick scrub and forests lining the Mara River, where leopards are sometimes spotted sleeping in the trees. Acacia savannah dominates the central region, with short- and long-grass open plains in the southeast and woodland plains and hills in the western corridor.
It is impossible to predict the exact time of the famous Serengeti migration of approximately 1.3 million wildebeest, 200,000 zebra and 300,000 Thomson’s gazelle, which covers a circuit of about 500 miles (800 km).
The key element in understanding of “The Greatest Wildlife Show on Earth” is that it follows the general “rainfall gradient” across the ecosystem, with lower rainfall in the southeast (short-grass plains) and higher rainfall in the northwest. The migration moves from Kenya back to the short-grass plains of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation area once the short rains have begun (usually in late October-November), and after the short-grass plains have dried out (usually in May), the migration moves northwest to higher rainfall areas and areas of permanent water – and fresh grass.
From December-May wildebeest, zebra, eland and Thomson’s gazelle usually concentrate on the treeless short-grass plains in the extreme south-eastern Serengeti and western Ngorongoro Conservation Area near Lake Ndutu in search of short grass, which they prefer over the longer dry-stemmed variety. This is the best time to visit the Serengeti. In April and May, the height of the rainy season, a 4wd vehicle is highly recommended.
Other species, common to the area during this period are Grant’s gazelle, eland, hartebeest, topi and a host of predators including lion, cheetah, spotted hyena, honey badger and black-backed jackal. Kori bustard, secretary bird, yellow-throated sand grouse and rufousnaped lark are resident birds of the open plains, which attract large numbers of migratory Montagu’s and pallid harriers (from Europe) between September and March.
During the long rainy season (April – May) , nomadic lions and hyena move to the eastern part of the Serengeti. The migration, mainly of wildebeest and zebra, begins in May or June. Once the dry season begins, wildebeest and zebra must migrate from the area. There is no permanent water; and both of these species must drink on a regular basis.
The rut for wildebeest is concentrated over a three-week period and generally occurs at the end of April. May or early June. After a gestation period of eight and one-half months, approximately 90% of the pregnant cows will give birth on the short-grass plains within a six week period between mid/end of January an d February. Zebra calving season is spread out over most of the year, with a slightly higher birth rate December-March. The best time to see wildebeest and zebra crossing the Grumeti River is in June/early July and November.
Wildebeest move about six to 10 abreast in columns several miles long toward the western corridor. Zebra do not move in columns but in family units.
As a general rule, by June the migration has progressed west of Seronera. The migration then splits into three separate migrations: one west through the corridor toward permanent water and Lake Victoria and the northeast; the second due north, reaching the Maasai Mara of Kenya around mid-July; and the third northward between the other tow to a region west of Lobo lodge, where the group disperses. At present, there are few roads in the region where the third group disperses; however, this may change.
During July-September the Serengeti’s highest concentration of wildlife is in the extreme north. The first and second groups meet and usually begin returning to the Serengeti National Park in late October; the migration then reaches the central or southern Serengeti by December.
Short-grass plains dominate the part of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area bordering the Serengeti. As you move northwest into the park, the plains change to medium-grass plains and then into long-grass plains around Simba Kopjes north of Naabi Hill Gage. Topi, elephant, Thomson´s and Grant’s gazelle, bat-eared fox and warthog are often seen here.
There are two saline lakes in the south of the park, Lake Masek and Lake Lagaja, known mainly for their populations of lesser and greater flamingos.