Let the great migration in this dynamic ecosystem move you.
It’s the only place where you can witness millions of migrating wildebeest over the Acacia plains, it’s the cradle of human life, and probably the closest to an untouched African wilderness you will ever get: welcome to Serengeti National Park. Where time seems to stand still, despite the thousands of animals constantly on the move
The greatest wildlife destination on earth
The magic of Serengeti National Park is not easy to describe in words. Not only seeing, but also hearing the buzz of millions of wildebeest so thick in the air that it vibrates through your entire body is something you will try to describe to friends and family, before realising it’s impossible.
Vistas of honey-lit plains at sunset so beautiful, it’s worth the trip just to witness this. The genuine smiles of the Maasai people, giving you an immediate warming glow inside. Or just the feeling of constantly being amongst thousands of animals – it doesn’t matter what season of the migration you visit the Serengeti National Park, it’s magical all year round.
The never-ending circle of the Great Migration
Serengeti National Park was one of the first sites listed as a World Heritage Site when United Nations delegates met in Stockholm in 1981.
Already by the late 1950s, this area had been recognized as a unique ecosystem, providing us with many insights into how the natural world functions and showing us how dynamic ecosystems really are.
Today, most visitors come here with one aim alone: to witness millions of wildebeest, zebras, gazelles and elands on a mass trek to quench their thirst for water and eat fresh grass.
During this great cyclical movement, these ungulates move around the ecosystem in a seasonal pattern, defined by rainfall and grass nutrients.
These large herds of animals on the move can’t be witnessed anywhere else. Whereas other famous wildlife parks are fenced, the Serengeti is protected, but unfenced. Giving animals enough space to make their return journey, one that they’ve been doing for millions of years. Read more about the Great Migration.
Beyond the Great Migration
Even though, for many travelers, the migration is one of the main reasons to visit Serengeti National Park, it’s worth looking beyond this immense spectacle. First of all, nature can’t be directed. Having realistic expectations of your chances to witness a river crossing, or a large herd on the move, is crucial.
A river crossing for example often only lasts thirty minutes, so can be missed in the blink of an eye. But don’t let this discourage you: there are plenty of other reasons to visit the Serengeti.
If it’s not for this vast stretch of land where you can drive forever and never get enough, it might be for the incredible skies of dazzling colours, or the primal feeling of excitement when a deep dark-grey thunderstorm appears on the broad horizon.
Or you might answer the lion’s call, and come to the Serengeti for one of the largest concentrations of predators in the world: the herds support about 7,500 hyenas, 3,000 lions and 250 cheetahs. And how about the silent grey giants? Elephants in the Serengeti amble over the plains into the woodlands, feasting on leaves and tree branches. Read more about wildlife in Serengeti wildlife.
Tribes in the cradle of human life
Even though animals still rule the plains of the Serengeti, this area has an incredibly long history of human occupation. Not only humans, but also human ancestors (Australopithecus afarensi) lived in this area for almost 4 million years.
Today, Serengeti National Park is still home to several indigenous tribes. One of the most famous tribes is the Maasai: this tribe is unique and popular due to their long-preserved culture.
Despite education, civilization and western cultural influences, the Maasai people have clung to their traditional way of life, making them a symbol of Tanzanian and Kenyan culture. Read more about the Maasai people.
Vibrancy, variety and vastness
You will soon realise that amazement doesn’t have boundaries in this world-renowned National Park of Tanzania. Serengeti is a transition area, with distinct changeovers going from rich flat soils, to poor hilly soils in the north, attracting a wide variety of vegetation and animals.
Whether you are looking for big cats, birds or even smaller creatures: Serengeti National Park delivers. Even to understand and experience just a small part of this ecosystem, will change your vision on our world and the environment.
After being overwhelmed by the vibrancy, variety and vastness of this land, this place of transition will leave you changed forever.
History of Serengeti National Park
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, explorers and missionaries described the Serengeti plains and the massive numbers of animals found there. Only minor details are all that were reported before explorations in the late 1920s and early 1930s supply the first references to the great wildebeest migrations, and the first photographs of the region.
An area of 2,286 square kilometers was established in 1930 as a game reserve in what is now southern and eastern Serengeti.
They allowed sport hunting activities until 1937, after which it stopped all hunting activities. In 1940 Protected Area Status was conferred to the area and the National Park itself was established in 1951, then covering southern Serengeti and the Ngorongoro highlands. They based the park headquarters on the rim of Ngorongoro crater.
So, the original Serengeti National Park, as it was gazetted in 1951, also included what now is the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA).
In 1959, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area was split off from the Serengeti National Park and they extended the boundaries of the park to the Kenya border.
The key reason for splitting off the Ngorongoro area was that local Maasai residents realized that they were threatened with eviction and consequently not allow to graze their cattle within the national park boundaries.
To counter this from happening, protests were staged. A compromise was reached wherein the Ngorongoro Crater Area was split off from the national park: the Maasai may live and graze their cattle in the Ngorongoro Crater area but not within Serengeti National Park boundaries.
In 1961 the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya was established and in 1965 the Lamai Wedge between the Mara River and Kenya border was added to Serengeti National Park, thus creating a permanent corridor allowing the wildebeests to migrate from the Serengeti plains in the south to the Loita Plains in the north.
The Maswa Game Reserve was established in 1962 and a small area north of The Grumeti River in the western corridor was added in 1967.
The Serengeti National Park was among the first places to be proposed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO at 1972 Stockholm conference. It was formally established in 1981.
Wildlife in the Serengeti
The main reason for travelling to Serengeti National Park is to see wildlife in a vast unspoilt natural environment. We can assure you won’t be dissapointed one bit!
Summarizing all highlights in terms of wildlife viewing in the Serengeti is not an easy task: there is just so much to see and discover. From Africa’s iconic Big 5, endless herds of wildebeest and zebra, hundreds of bird species, to much smaller creatures, such as the ever-charming dung beetle
The Big Five in the Serengeti
The Big Five define that ultimate African safari experience: seeing these impressive animals – lion, rhino, leopard, elephant and Cape buffalo – roaming freely in their own habitat is something you will never forget.
You might wonder however, why those specific animals are part of the Big Five? Is a giraffe not large as well? Here is a factoid: the term ‘Big Five’ was coined by big game hunters and is not derived from the size of the animals. These animals proved to be the most difficult to hunt, mostly due to their ferocity when cornered.
Good job that these Big Five in the Serengeti are now only ‘shot’ by camera. Your guide and tracker will help you check the Big Five off your list. (And in the meantime: let’s not forget that other wildlife – like giraffes or hippos – are just as exciting to spot.)
King of the African savannah: seeing a pride of lions in their own habitat will leave you with an indelible memory. We have some good news for you: the Serengeti is home to some incredibly large prides of lions and they are fairly easy to spot. Lions live in a pride because they’re very social animals. In a group, the females hunt more than the males, but most will happily scavenge if they get the chance, because their favourite activity is snoozing under a tree: something they like to do for about 20 hours a day!
They walk with an elegant grace and have an amazing coat: the leopard, also known as ‘The Prince of Darkness’. This is the most shy and elusive one of the Big Five. Leopards are excellent at playing hide and seek: if they don’t want to be seen, they can be perfectly camouflaged. In the Serengeti, you will be most likely to spot a leopard resting on a tree branch. The large branches of the sausage tree are their favourite spot. So never forget to look up: a leopard might be enjoying his lunch high up in a tree, so lions and other predators don’t bother him.
Not quite the lazy bush cow you might imagine: the buffalo is one of Africa’s most dangerous animals with very few predators. Lions might try to go for a calf, but are likely to pay the price later when an angry herd takes revenge.
Buffalo need to drink every day, so they are often found at a waterhole. Although they can be notoriously bad tempered, especially when they’re injured, their wise gaze – as once described by a novelist: ‘They look at you like you owe them money’ – makes them thrilling to see.
In the Serengeti, buffalo come in very healthy numbers: there’s a good chance you’ll see herds with over 1,000 or more of these thrilling animals.
It’s the world’s largest land animal, and seeing one in its natural habitat is simply thrilling. In the Serengeti, these grey giants roam the plains and disappear into the woodlands. Female elephants live in close-knit clans and family bonds can last for 50 years. Males often leave the clan after 12 years to roam singly or form bachelor herds.
Elephants frequently visit waterholes close to lodges. They are peaceful when left alone, but if an elephant feels threatened, get out of the way.
Nothing scarier than being chased by an animal that weighs 7,000 kilos (imagine the weight of seven stacked cars) and trumpets loudly…
The rhino is a pre-historic heavyweight, weighing in at 2,500 kilos. There are two types of rhinos in Africa: the black and white rhino. As you might expect, the white rhino is not white, but grey like the others. The name ‘white’ was misinterpreted after early Dutch settlers used the word ‘wijd’ (wide), referring to its broad lips.
Unfortunately, the rhino has a horn that’s worth more than its weight in gold. Over the past several decades, the rhino population in the Serengeti ecosystem has suffered greatly due to poaching: rhino numbers decreased from 1,000 to less than 70 individuals.
The female rhino only gives birth every five years, making the rhino one of the most challenging animals to spot in Serengeti National Park, but with an experienced guide by your side, you might get lucky!
Other wildlife in the Serengeti
The Serengeti has a great variety of animals, because it’s a unique transition area. The distinct changeover from rich flat soils in the south, to the poor hilly soils in the north, leads to a great diversity of vegetation and habitats across the park.
A unique habitat is the riverine forests: a favourite spot for hippos and crocodiles. Other common animals are the long-neck giraffes, many other ungulates (hooved animals) such as the eland, zebra, topi, kongoni, impala and Grant’s gazelle are resident at any time of the year.
As said, all three big cats are easily seen. Lions are everywhere and are often found on a kill. Cheetahs are very common on the south-eastern plains, while leopards can typically be found lazing in one of the big trees along the Seronera River. Hyenas are common, wild dogs, unfortunately, are rare.
Always on the fly: birdlife in Serengeti National Park
If you’re not a birdwatcher at heart, there’s a good chance you’ll become one after visiting the Serengeti. With more than 500 bird species recorded, this is a birdlife paradise. Most guides will happily point out all the unique species in this area, like the bright green and yellow-coloured Fischer’s Lovebird, or the Kuri bustard with its impressive white beard.
The Serengeti-Mara ecosystem is one of Africa’s Endemic Bird Areas (land important for habitat-based bird conservation), and also hosts five bird species found nowhere else, half of which are confined to the Tanzanian portion of the ecosystem. Read more about birds in Serengeti.
Best time for bird watching
Luckily, bird watching in the Serengeti is good year-round, but at its very best between early November and late April. Not only is this when European and North African migratory birds are present, but it is also nesting time for resident species.
This makes it easy to spot birds in their exciting breeding plumage. Read more about the best time to visit the Serengeti.
Small talk: insects in the Serengeti
We have good news for anyone who’s not a big fan of stinging and biting insects (who is?): the numbers of these insects are low in the Serengeti compared to North America and Europe. However, the diversity of other insects is phenomenally higher in this park.
Many of these little creatures play a critical role in the ecosystem of the entire area, and many guides will enthusiastically explain more about the importance of insects. Five of these critical insect groups are dung beetles, grasshoppers, termites, butterflies, moths, and ants.
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