About Serengeti National Park
Serengeti National Park is a Tanzanian national park in the Serengeti ecosystem in the Mara and Simiyu regions. It is famous for its annual migration of over 1.5 million white bearded (or brindled) wildebeest and 250,000 zebra and for its numerous Nile crocodile and honey badger.
The Maasai people had been grazing their livestock in the open plains of eastern Mara Region, which they named “endless plains”, for around 200 years when the first European explorer, Austrian Oscar Baumann, visited the area in 1892. The name “Serengeti” is an approximation of the word used by the Maasai to describe the area, siringet, which means “the place where the land runs on forever”.
The first Briton to enter the Serengeti, Stewart Edward White, recorded his explorations in the northern Serengeti in 1913. He returned to the Serengeti in the 1920s and camped in the area around Seronera for three months. To preserve wildlife, the British evicted the resident Maasai from the park in 1959 and moved them to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. There is still considerable controversy surrounding this move, with claims made of coercion and deceit on the part of the colonial authorities.
The park is Tanzania’s oldest national park and remains the flagship of the country’s tourism industry, providing a major draw to the Northern Safari Circuit encompassing Lake Manyara National Park, Tarangire National Park, Arusha National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. It has over 2,500 lions and more than 1 million wildebeest.
The Serengeti plains harbour the largest remaining unaltered animal migration in the world where over one million wildebeest plus hundreds of thousands of other ungulates engage in a 1,000 km long annual circular trek spanning the two adjacent countries of Kenya and Tanzania. This spectacular phenomenon takes place in a unique scenic setting of ‘endless plains’: 25,000km2 of treeless expanses of spectacularly flat short grasslands dotted with rocky outcrops (kopjes) interspersed with rivers and woodlands. The Park also hosts one of the largest and most diverse large predator-prey interactions worldwide, providing a particularly impressive aesthetic experience.
The remarkable spatial-temporal gradient in abiotic factors such as rainfall, temperature, topography and geology, soils and drainage systems in Serengeti National Park manifests in a wide variety of aquatic and terrestrial habitats. The combination of volcanic soils combined with the ecological impact of the migration results in one of the most productive ecosystems on earth, sustaining the largest number of ungulates and the highest concentration of large predators in the world. The ecosystem supports 2 million wildebeests, 900,000 Thomson’s gazelles and 300,000 zebras as the dominant herds. Other herbivores include 7,000 elands, 27,000 topis, 18,000 hartebeests, 70,000 buffalos, 4,000 giraffes, 15,000 warthogs, 3,000 waterbucks, 2,700 elephants, 500 hippopotamuses, 200 black rhinoceroses, 10 species of antelope and 10 species of primate. Major predators include 4,000 lions, 1000 leopards, 225 cheetahs, 3,500 spotted hyenas and 300 wild dogs. Of these, the black rhino Diceros bicornis, leopard Panthera pardus, African elephant Loxodonta africana and cheetah Acynonix jubatus are listed in the IUCN Red List. There are over 500 species of birds that are perennially or seasonally present in the Park, of which five species are endemic to Tanzania. The Park has the highest ostrich population in Tanzania and probably Africa, making the population globally important.
Serengeti National Park is at the heart the larger Serengeti ecosystem, which is defined by the area covered by the annual migration. The property is contiguous with Ngorongoro Conservation Unit, an area of 528,000ha declared a World Heritage Site in 1979. The entire ecosystem also includes the Maswa Game Reserve (2,200km2) in the south, Grumeti and Ikorongo Game Reserves in the east, Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya (1,672km2) to the north, and Loliondo Game Controlled Area in the west. This entire ecosystem is intact and no barriers hamper the migration. Serengeti National Park is sufficiently large and intact to ensure the survival and vigour of all the species contained therein, if maintained in its present state but does not, by itself, ensure the protection of the entire ecosystem. However, all other parts of the ecosystem do have a greater or lesser degree of protection. A potential threat is the plan to build a transport infrastructure through the Serengeti. This would essentially cut the ecosystem into two halves, with predictably negative consequences on the Serengeti. Adding Maswa Game Reserve and Maasai Mara National Reserve to the World Heritage List, or giving then the status of a buffer zone would further safeguard the Outstanding Universal Values of this property.
Another major potential threat to the integrity of the Park is the scarcity of surface water for the animals during dry years, as only one river (Mara) flows perennially through the Park. An extension of the Park boundary to reach Lake Victoria providing a corridor for animals to access water in times of drought is planned for the future to address this issue.
The park covers 14,750 square kilometres (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 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, and waterbuck – also occur in huge numbers during the wet season. “Kopjes” are granite florations that are very common in the region, and they are great observation posts for predators, as well as a refuge for hyrax and pythons.
- Western corridor: the black clay soil covers the swampy savannah of this region. The Grumeti River is home to Nile crocodiles, colobus monkeys, hippopotamus, and martial eagles. The migration passes through from May to July.
- 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. Apart from the migratory wildebeest and zebra (which occur from July to August, and in November), the bushy savannah is the best place to find elephant, giraffe, and dik dik.
Human habitation is forbidden in the park with the exception of staff for 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 the majority of research staff and the park’s main headquarters, including its primary airstrip.
In addition to the migration of ungulates, the park is well known for its healthy stock of other resident wildlife, particularly the “big five”, named for the five most prized trophies taken by hunters:
- Masai lion: the Serengeti is believed to hold the largest population of lions in Africa due in part to the abundance of prey species. More than 3,000 lions live in this ecosystem.
- African leopard: these reclusive predators are commonly seen in the Seronera region but are present throughout the national park with the population at around 1,000.
- African bush elephant: the herds are recovering from population lows in the 1980s caused by poaching and are largely located in the northern regions 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 Masai Mara Reserve cross the park border and enter Serengeti from the northern section at times.
- African buffalo: still abundant and present in healthy numbers.
This park also supports many other species, including the Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelle, wildebeest, topi, eland, waterbuck, spotted hyena, striped hyena, serval, baboon, impala, East African wild dog, and Masai giraffe. It also boasts about 500 bird species, including ostriches, secretary bird, kori bustards, crowned cranes, marabou storks, martial eagles, lovebirds, and many species of vultures.
Administration and protection
Because of its biodiversity and ecological significance, the park has been listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as a World Heritage Site. As a national park, it is designated as a Category II protected area under the system developed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which means that it should be managed, through either a legal instrument or another effective means, to protect the ecosystem or ecological processes as a whole.
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 site has a well designated and partially demarcated boundary, and since 2009 funds have been allocated to demarcate the entire boundary. Its management is regulated by both international and government policies and legal obligations. The National Parks Ordinance Cap 412 of 1959 provides for Tanzania National Parks with the mandate to manage the site. In addition, The 1974 Tanzanian Wildlife Conservation Act and the 2009 Wildlife Conservation Act provide for both within the site and adjacent area protection of resources, respectively. A General Management Plan (2006-2016) has been formulated to guide the daily management of the site in a sustainable manner and is currently being implemented. The Plan provides guidance on how to execute the various activities within the park under four main Themes: Ecosystem Management, Outreach services, Tourism Management and Park Operations. The site has a reasonable level of human and financial resources for effective management, but as the activities expand, and more challenges emerge, the lack of sufficient resources remains a potential future constraint. The major management concerns include poaching, tourism pressure, wildfires, and lack of adequate capacity in resource monitoring. Another important management challenge is water: despite numerous sources of water during the rain season, there is only one perennial river (Mara) which is transnational. However, this river currently faces multiple human-mediated cross-boundary threats.
For every wildlife enthusiast, The Serengeti, host to the annual 800km migration of 2.5 million mammals, is a
must see when planning your safari. One of the seven wonders of Africa and a World Heritage site, Tanzania’s oldest and largest national park covers a massive area of 14,763 sq km which makes up some 14% of the country’s land area.
The Serengeti is home to Africa’s largest concentration of plains game; more than 2 million wildebeest, half a million Thomson’s gazelle and a quarter of a million zebras, as well as substantial populations of buffalo, giraffe and warthog. But more impressively the Serengeti’s most memorable animals are its predators. Thousands of lion
prides are often spotted on the kopjes and the long grasses of the central plains; the solitary leopard can mostly be seen sleeping in Serengeti’s ‘Sausage’ trees (Kigelia Africana) and last, but certainly not least, is the smaller and lighter cheetah that’s built for speed and can chase its’ prey up to speeds of 120km/h. Apart from Ngorongoro, you have some of the best chances of seeing predators in action in the Serengeti, especially during the migration when the spectacle of predator versus prey is a gruesome yet fascinating sight.
For those looking for a gentler more serene wildlife experience, the Serengeti has more than 500 bird species, the
second highest in the country after Tarangire National Park, perfect for the bird watcher in you. Birds ranging from the tiny Red–cheeked Cordon Bleu to the larger Marabou stork can be spotted.
There’s much more to the Serengeti than its wildlife; its diverse habitats offer extremely varied landscapes, from
vast savannah in the centre, rolling grass plains in the north, hilly woodlands in the western corridor and open grasslands. Serengeti has one of the most complex and least disturbed ecosystems on earth, with each area having its own particular atmosphere and wildlife. Small rivers, lakes and swamps are scattered throughout the Serengeti, providing homes for primates, water birds and the vicious crocodile that preys on thirsty wildlife. In all the Serengeti supports over 4 million animals and birds and is one of the largest animal sanctuaries in the world.