All of us have marvelled at the close-up shot of a deer, a herd of zebra, or a rare bird on National Geography. All of us have watched with amazement, the scenic beauty of African forests in the Lion King movie. Serengeti National Park, Tanzania houses all those exotic species and more. That is why it is a UNESCO declared World Heritage Site.
The Maasai, a local tribe, had been living on the land two thousand years ago. They called the region “endless plains”. But in 1959, they were evicted and moved to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
The British said it was for the purpose of preserving wildlife. But today we have reason to believe that the tribals were cheated on and coerced, and it was not fair.
Sprawling over a space of 14, 750 square meters, the Serengeti National Park features diverse habitats. There are grassland plains, woodlands, riverine forests, and mixtures of woodlands and grasslands- savannas.
In fact, proposals have been made to extend the park boundaries up to Lake Victoria. Intense droughts are making survival harder for wildlife each year. But again, extending would mean taking over land belonging to native tribals. So, the debates are still on.
The park is divided into three regions- the Serengeti plains, Western Corridor and Northern Serengeti. The Serengeti plains have treeless grasslands. The Western corridor is known for its black clay soil and the Grumeti River. The Northern Serengeti features open woodlands and hills.
The Serengeti National Park is a huge tourist attraction in Tanzania. In fact, it draws tourists to the Northern Safari circuit that includes the Lake Manyara National Park, Tarangire National Park, Arusha National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
The Big Five
Serengeti National Park is home to over 500 species of birds and 300 species of mammals. What most people look for are the Big Five- lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and black rhino. They are the most challenging and dangerous animals that were hunted in colonial Africa.
With such an abundance of prey animals, Serengeti has the largest population of lions in Africa. With a population of about 3000 lions, the area has been declared as a Lion Conservation Unit since 2005. It is protected together with the Masai Mara National Reserve and a lion stronghold in East Africa.
Basking in the sun among tall tree branches, leopards roam the park with a population of about 1000. They are reclusive animals, and they hunt alone.
They are stealthier and sturdier than the lions and cheetahs of the Serengeti. If you hear a deep, throaty roar from somewhere around, tread carefully. It is a beast with spots on a tan skin coming your way!
The African Elephant, with its giant ears and tusks, is the largest living terrestrial animal on Earth. When you see waterholes and footpaths on your trail, you know a herd of elephants has been there. Their dung helps fertilize the soil and disperse tree seeds.
The species was endangered in the 1980s when there was a lot of poaching for illegal wildlife products. But today, the population has been restored. There are about 5000 elephants in the Serengeti National Park. The Northern region of the park is particularly dominated by the African bush elephant.
Eastern Black Rhinoceros
The rhinoceros is the most endangered species in the park. It’s so bad that the park now has a tiny population of 31 individuals. The reason is rampant poaching for the rhino horn, which is used for folk medicine in some communities.
Rhinos are found in small, isolated hills or ridges. In 2010, 32 Eastern Black Rhinos were translocated from South Africa to the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, their ancestral land. Serengeti National Park now has the largest population of eastern black rhinos that are not constrained in cages.
The Cape Buffalo has the largest population among the big five. There are around 53,000 buffalos in Serengeti national park. The Cape Buffalo is one of the most dangerous animals in the African continent.
When predators like lions or crocodiles prey on them, they move in a tightly knit herd. The predator thus finds it difficult to attack a single member. There have been instances of buffalo herds chasing and even killing lions.
Apart from the big five, there are several other species that feed on smaller animals in the park.
The East African Cheetah found in the Serengeti park is the oldest and largest of all subspecies of cheetahs. Leaping high at a gazelle in a grassland, they can be very photogenic while hunting! They, too are an endangered species because of poaching by humans and hunting by larger predators like lions and leopards.
Hyenas: Spotted and Striped
Remember Scar’s goons from Lion King? Those were spotted hyenas. They are also called laughing hyenas because the sounds they make are like high pitched giggling (maybe it’s wicked laughter, who knows?). They are all over the Serengeti National Park.
Hyenas have complex social lives bordering on weird. Packs of hyenas are openly competitive, and there is no hierarchy of power. Mothers care for only their own offspring, and males never show any paternal care. Females are larger than males, and they are the ones calling shots in the pack.
Striped hyenas are smaller and more isolated. They live alone or in pairs, hunt at night and forage for food at times.
If the Serengeti national park were a school, the honey badger would be the weird kid that no one messes with.
Seriously, this animal has very few natural predators. It has thick but loose skin that allows it to turn and twist all ways. It also has strong claws that enable it to dig into burrows for rodents and lizards. When it’s in a tight spot, the honey badger can be really scary and savage.
The most frequently spotted antelope is the wildebeest. The blue wildebeest, also known as the brindled gnu, have a bluish-grey skin and curved horns. These cautious herbivores move about in herds during mornings or late afternoons.
Because of their beards, these animals may look like tired grandfathers at first glance. Although, you should see them locking horns during the mating season!
Serengeti national park also has the swift as lightning Grant’s Gazelle, the sandy-colored Thomson’s Gazelle, swift and social Topi, the Coke’s hartebeest, and the super chill, laid back waterbuck. No doubt, the prettiest of them is the Great Kudu boasting its curved horns and long legs.
Other species are rarer, like the spiral-horned common eland, the slender oribi, and the gorgeous reddish reedbuck. If you’re lucky, you might even spot the hefty roan antelope, the robust sable antelope, and the skinny steenbok.
An especially remarkable species is the impala, which looks like a mix between a goat and a deer. The females have lovely leaf-shaped ears, and the males have curvy horns.
Some species of antelopes are really spectacular. The fringe-eared oryx, for example, has straight, pointy, muscular horns. The klipspringer is adorably tiny with short horns and beautiful eyes.
Often grazing alongside the wildebeest, you may spot a group of zebras. Like most other herbivores, they feed on foliage and short grass.
From a distance, they look like a peaceful lot. But every harem of zebras is a platform for a cutthroat rivalry between its female members. The male members pick fights of their own, but they are no match for the females!
The western corridor of Serengeti National Park is home to a massive herbivore, the hippopotamus.
Hippopotamuses love to chill out in rivers and swamps. They often graze their lunch alone. But they can be really aggressive and unpredictable. You better not mess with them!
In its freshwater bodies, Serengeti national park houses the Nile crocodile. Crocodiles enjoy a seat at the top of the Serengeti ecosystem as apex predators, and with good reason. They rely on stealth, not on strength. They can wait hours, even days to strike and bite down on the swiftest of prey animals.
Next in line is the fabled, highly venomous black mamba, the spitting cobra, and the lethal puff adder. There are species of tortoises like the attractive leopard tortoise and turtles like the serrated hinged terrapin. You might find this one basking in the sun on the back of a sleeping hippocampus!
Most remarkable among the birds are the Masai ostrich, the graceful kori bustard, and the lesser flamingos with small beaks. The martial eagle is the most powerful of all. There are adorable lovebirds and oxpeckers. Crowned cranes and marabou starks are the ones to show off.
Shuffling among tall trees, you may spot a yellow or olive baboon or a vervet monkey. The coolest of all is the white colobus, sporting a tuft of hair on its head like the latest fashion in town.
You may also find an aardvark burrowing the ground or a cape hare staring at you with those big, glassy eyes. You may get startled at the sight of a furry African civet, a crested porcupine, a mongoose or a scaly ground pangolin.
The Great Migration
Serengeti national park witnesses the world’s longest migration from January to March every year. About 1.5 million wildebeest migrate toward the southern plains. Antelopes and zebras also join them.
They go to the southern plains to bear calves and feed them with more milk since the grass actually is greener on the other side. They are often preyed on by lions and crocodiles while they are crossing the Mara river.
Also, in case you are wondering, yes, the stampede scene from The Lion King was, in fact, the great migration.
The dry season, i.e. June to October, is the best time to visit Serengeti National Park. The great migration, of course, is the highlight of wildlife viewing.
Also, around this time, animals come out to water bodies for a drink. You can get a pretty good view of them in a hot air balloon ride!
Serengeti National Park
Serengeti National park is the best place to visit if you love gazing at the great African wildlife. Whether you want to see the main five animals of the park in action, or you want to witness the incredible migration, you will not be disappointed.
That was our piece on the Serengeti National Park. Do check out similar articles on the website!