By Farzad Ghotaslou- Art in Tanzania internship
Serengeti is popular park for Art in Tanzania visitors. The Great Migration is at its best from June to September but animals are abundant all year around.
Chances are that you have dreamt of Africa, and when you did, you probably dreamt about the Serengeti. Countless wildlife movies have been recorded in the Serengeti, and with good reason: this is the home of the Great Migration and may very well be one of the last true natural wonders on planet earth.
Serengeti National Park is a World Heritage Site teeming with wildlife: over 2 million ungulates, 4000 lions, 1000 leopard, 550 cheetahs and some 500 bird species inhabit an area close to 15,000 square kilometers in size. Join us on a safari and explore the endless Serengeti plains dotted with trees and kopjes from which majestic lions control their kingdom; gaze upon the Great Migration in awe or find an elusive leopard in a riverine forest.
Or perhaps see everything from a bird’s-eye view and soar over the plains at sunrise during a hot air balloon safari. Accommodation options come in every price range – the sound of lions roaring at night is complimentary.
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 magic of Serengeti National Park is not easy to describe in words. Not only seeing, but also hearing the buzz of millions of wildebeests so thick in the air that it vibrates through your entire body is something you will try to describe to friends and family, before realizing 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.
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 wildebeests, 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.
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.
The name “Serengeti” approximates the word siringet used by the Maasai people for the area, which means “the place where the land runs on forever”.
The Serengeti gained fame after the initial work of Bernhard Grzimek and his son Michael in the 1950s. Together, they produced the book and film Serengeti Shall Not Die, widely recognized as one of the most important early pieces of nature conservation documentary.
On the eastern portion of the Serengeti National Park lies the Serengeti volcanic grasslands which is a Tropical Grassland Ecozone. The grasslands grow on deposits of volcanic ash from the Kerimasi Volcano which erupted 150,000 years ago and also from the Ol Doinyo Lengai Volcanic eruptions which created layers of calcareous tuff and calcitic hard-pan soil.
The plains that cover a third of the park were formed in volcanic eruptions. The main eruption in its formation was by Kerimasi, a dormant volcano near Lake Natron. The major eruption happened 150,000 years ago. Ol Doinyo Lengai has been active, erupting 15 times since the 19th century most recently in 2007.
The plains extend from the northeast near Lake Natron, to the west as far as Seronera. The park covers 14,750 km2 (5,700 sq mi) of grassland plains, savanna, riverine forest, and woodlands.
The Park lies in northwestern Tanzania, bordered to the north by the Kenyan border, where it is continuous with the Maasai Mara National Reserve. To the southeast of the park is the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, to the southwest lies Maswa Game Reserve, to the west are the Ikorongo and Grumeti Game Reserves, and to the northeast and east lies the Loliondo Game Control Area.
Together, these areas form the larger Serengeti ecosystem. The landscape of the Serengeti Plain is extremely varied, ranging from savannah to hilly woodlands, to open grasslands. The geographic diversity of the region is due to the extreme weather conditions that plague the area, particularly the potent combination of heat and wind.
Many environmental scientists claim that the diverse habitats in the region originated from a series of volcanoes, whose activity shaped the basic geographic features of the plain and added mountains and craters to the landscape.
The Park is usually described as divided into three regions:
Serengeti plains: the almost treeless grassland of the south is the most emblematic scenery of the park. This is where the wildebeest breed, as they remain in the plains from December to May. Other hoofed animals – zebra, gazelle, impala, hartebeest, topi, buffalo, waterbuck – also occur in huge numbers during the wet season. “Kopjes” are granite floriation’s that are very common in the region, and they are great observation posts for predators, as well as a refuge for hyrax and pythons.
In the Serengeti National Park lies the Serengeti volcanic grasslands. The Volcanic Grasslands is a edaphic plant community that grows on soils derived from volcanic ash from nearby volcanos. This zone of the plain is also famous for granite outcroppings called kopjes, that interrupt the plains and play host to separate ecosystems than are found in the grasses below.
Western corridor: the black clay soil covers the savannah of this region. The Grumeti River and its gallery forests is home to Nile crocodiles, patas monkeys, hippopotamus, and martial eagles. The Grumeti River is famed for its thrilling river crossings during the Great Migration alongside Mara River. The migration passes through from May to July. There are sometimes rare Colobus Monkeys. It stretches almost to Lake Victoria.
Northern Serengeti: the landscape is dominated by open woodlands (predominantly Commiphora) and hills, ranging from Seronera in the south to the Mara River on the Kenyan border. It is remote and relatively inaccessible. Apart from the migratory wildebeest and zebra (which occur from July to August, and in November), this is the best place to find elephant, giraffe, and dik dik. This zone of the plain is also famous for granite outcroppings called kopjes, that interrupt the plains and play host to separate ecosystems than are found in the grasses below.
Human habitation is forbidden in the park with the exception of staff of the Tanzania National Parks Authority, researchers and staff of the Frankfurt Zoological Society, and staff of the various lodges, campsites and hotels. The main settlement is Seronera, which houses most research staff and the park’s main headquarters, including its primary airstrip.
The Park is known worldwide for its abundance of wildlife and high biodiversity.
The migratory – and some resident – wildebeest, which number over 1.5 million individuals, constitute the largest population of big mammals that still roam the planet. They are joined in their journey through the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem by 200,000 plains zebra, 300,000 Thomson’s gazelle and Grant’s gazelle, and tens of thousands of topi and Coke’s hartebeest.
Masai giraffe, waterbuck, greater kudu, impala, common warthog and hippopotamus are also abundant. Some rarely seen species of antelope are also present in Serengeti National Park, such as common eland, klipspringer, oribi, reedbuck, roan antelope, sable antelope, steenbok, common duiker, bushbuck, lesser kudu, fringe-eared oryx and dik dik. Herds support 7,500 hyenas, 3,000 lions, and 250 cheetahs. There are more than 500 birds and 300 mammal species.
Perhaps the most popular animals among tourists are the Big Five, which include:
Lion: the Serengeti is believed to hold the largest lion population in Africa due in part to the abundance of prey species. More than 3,000 lions live in this ecosystem.Since 2005, the protected area is considered a Lion Conservation Unit together with Maasai Mara National Reserve and a lion stronghold in East Africa.
African leopard: these reclusive predators are commonly seen in the Seronera region but are present throughout the national park with a population of around 1,000.
African bush elephant: the herds have recovered successfully from population lows in the 1980s caused by poaching, now numbering over 5,000 individuals, and are particularly numerous in the northern region of the park.
Eastern black rhinoceros mainly found around the kopjes in the centre of the park, very few individuals remain due to rampant poaching. Individuals from the Maasai Mara Reserve cross the park border and enter Serengeti from the northern section at times. There is currently a small but stable population of 31 individuals left in the park.
Cape buffalo: the most numerous of the Big Five, with around 53,000 individuals inside the park.
Carnivores include the cheetah, which is widely seen due to the abundance of gazelle, about 3,500 spotted hyena, two species of jackal, African golden wolf, honey badger, striped hyena, caracal, serval, seven species of mongooses, two species of otters and the East African wild dog of 300 individuals, which was recently reintroduced (locally extinct since 1991).
Apart from the safari staples, primates such as yellow and olive baboons, patas monkeys, and vervet monkey, black-and-white colobus are also seen in the gallery forests of the Grumeti River.
Other mammals include aardvark, aardwolf, African wildcat, African civet, common genet, zorilla, African striped weasel, bat-eared fox, ground pangolin, crested porcupine, three species of hyraxes and cape hare.
Serengeti National Park also attracts great ornithological interest, boasting about more than 500 bird species; including Masai ostrich, secretary bird, kori bustards, helmeted guinea fowls, Grey-breasted spurfowl, blacksmith lapwing, African collared dove, red-billed buffalo weaver, southern ground hornbill, crowned cranes, sacred ibis, cattle egrets, black herons, knob-billed ducks, saddle-billed storks, goliath herons, marabou storks, yellow-billed stork, spotted thick-knees, white stork, lesser flamingo, shoebills, abdim’s stork, hamerkops, hadada ibis, African fish eagles, pink-backed pelicans, Tanzanian red-billed hornbill, martial eagles, Egyptian geese, lovebirds, spur-winged geese, oxpeckers, and many species of vultures.
Reptiles in the Serengeti National Park include Nile crocodile, leopard tortoise, serrated hinged terrapin, rainbow agama, Nile monitor, chameleon, African python, black mamba, black-necked spitting cobra, and puff adder.
The great migration is a iconic feature of the park. It is also the world’s longest overland migration. Roughly 1.5 million wildebeest migrate north from the south all the way through the park north into Maasai Mara. From January to March (calving season), half a million wildebeests are born which makes sure the herd survives to the next year.
Attacks by the largest lion population in Africa are common this time. In March, the herds leave the southern plains and start the migration. Giant eland, plains zebra, and Thomson’s gazelle will also join them on the way. In April and May, they will pass the Western Corridor. When this happens, smaller camps must close due to impassable roads.
When the dry season comes, the herd moves north to the Maasai Mara where there is lush green grass.
They will have to pass the Grumeti and Mara rivers though and 3,000 crocodiles that wait and suddenly lunge at them. For everyone wildebeest captured by the crocodiles, 50 drown. It is a reason why the Serengeti is so famous. When the dry season comes to an end in late October, they will head back down south to where they started their journey a year earlier. The full trip is 800 km (500 mi).
Annually, around 250,000 wildebeest and 30,000 plains zebras die usually due to predation, exhaustion, thirst, or disease.
Massive amounts of deforestation in the Mau Forest region has changed the hydrology of the Mara river where its’s source is. The river dried up for the first time in the 2010s. Leopards started cannibalizing each other in the late 2010s. It is not uncommon for leopards from the same family to eat each other.
Proposed road across the northern Serengeti
In July 2010, President Jakaya Kikwete renewed his support for an upgraded road through the northern portion of the park to link Mto wa Mbu, southeast of Ngorongoro Crater, and Musoma on Lake Victoria. While he said that the road would lead to much-needed development in poor communities, others, including conservation groups and foreign governments like Kenya, argued that the road could irreparably damage the great migration and the park’s ecosystem.
The African Network for Animal Welfare sued the Tanzanian government in December 2010 at the East African Court of Justice in Arusha to prevent the road project. The court ruled in June 2014 that the plan to build the road was unlawful because it would infringe the East African Community Treaty under which member countries must respect protocols on conservation, protection, and management of natural resources. The court, therefore, restrained the government from going ahead with the project.
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