Serengeti National Park

An African wildlife sanctuary

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Serengeti National Park, Simiyu, Tanzania

GPS: -2.332820121924, 34.833606494629

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The Serengeti National Park lies between Lake Victoria and the Great Rift Valley in northwestern Tanzania. Its vast plains, frequented by a phenomenal quantity of animals, are part of the territorial continuity of the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. Thanks to its ecosystem preserved for thousands of years, Serengeti is one of the 10 best wildlife reserves on the African continent. The annual migration of huge herds of herbivorous animals is one of the world’s most beautiful spectacles.

The Serengeti National Park is one of the largest wilderness areas in the world, covering nearly 15,000 km², or 14% of the country’s total area (in comparison, it is 10 times larger than the neighbouring Maasai Mara National Reserve). This former hunting area of Tanganyika was occupied by British and German settlers when the park was established in 1951 (the country became independent in 1961 and merged three years later with the state of Zanzibar to form the United Republic of Tanzania). Serengeti means “endless plains” in Maa, a Nilotic language spoken by the Maasai, originally from southern Sudan. For centuries, the way of life of this nation of shepherds, who live in communion with nature, has been based on the tradition of breeding cattle.

The Serengeti National Park was the first natural site in Africa to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981 and is a popular destination for wilderness safaris and hot air ballooning. Each year, hundreds of thousands of zebras, Thomson’s gazelles and common elands accompany the migration of about two million wildebeest from Tanzania to Kenya in search of greener pastures on which to feed. The crossing of the crocodile-infested Mara River, inhabited by formidable predators, is a feared obstacle for the nomadic animals and leads to a fierce struggle between herbivores and carnivores to survive. Along with global warming and poaching, increased pastoral activity, population growth, and the intensification of human activities, the ecological balance of Serengeti National Park is under increasing threat.

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  • The abundance of wild animals numbering several million, (lions, leopards, hyenas, wild dogs, jackals, servals, hippos, black rhinos, monkeys, zebras, giraffes, buffaloes, gazelles, elands, elephants, reptiles, crocodiles…)
  • More than 400 species of birds can be observed (the Serengeti plains have few trees): ostrich, kori bustard, martial eagle, pink flamingo, Bateleur, secretary bird, Tanzanian red-billed hornbill, Helmeted guineafowl…
  • The spectacle of the great migration of wildebeest and other wildlife between the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya and the Ngorongoro caldera (the largest animal migration in the world)
  • Hippo Pool; Seronera Central Area; Naabi Hill; huge boulders called kopje; Mara and Grumeti Rivers; Ol Doinyo Lengai Volcano (Tanzania’s only active volcano)
  • The endless landscapes of savannah, steppe and wide open spaces typical of the Great Rift Valley; the Serengeti ecosystem, one of the oldest on the planet
  • The birth of several thousand wildebeest calves in February or March, before the start of the great migration
  • The culture, lifestyle and traditional habitat of the Maasai people (semi-nomadic pastoralist tribes and formidable warriors); meeting the Chagga and Makonde (Bantu-speaking peoples), the Sukuma (their traditional healers use some of the reserve’s wildlife resources for medicinal purposes), and the Hadzabe (one of Africa’s last hunter-gatherer populations)
  • Flying over the savannah and plains of Serengeti National Park in a hot air balloon or small passenger plane
  • The Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Crater which is located southeast of Serengeti National Park; the nearby Maswa, Grumeti and Ikorongo reserves bordering the Serengeti; the proximity of Lakes Magadi, Eyasi, Manyara, Natron and Victoria
  • In addition to housing the largest concentration of wildlife in the world, Serengeti National Park is the largest and oldest protected natural area in Tanzania. The term “safari” originated in this East African country and means “journey” in Swahili (a Bantu language native to Tanzania). This type of expedition to remote areas of Africa to hunt big cats was popularized in industrialized countries in stories from the 19th century. At this time, British explorers Richard Francis Burton, Henry Morton Stanley and David Livingstone went in search of the mythical source of the Nile.
  • Originally from the Lower Nile Valley (Lower Egypt), the Maasai began to migrate from the 15th century onwards to the green lands of the Great Rift Valley dotted with numerous rivers and alkaline lakes. Some of these semi-nomadic warriors and pastoralists settled with their herds in Serengeti in the late 18th century. With animistic beliefs, the Maasai have always coexisted with the wildlife and nature around them. They do not hunt game, preferring the meat from their livestock (sheep, goats, cows) which constitute their main wealth. This resilient people, proud of their culture, managed to escape the slavery practices of the Sultans of Zanzibar. Although dispossessed of most of their land, they also resisted the colonization attempts of the British. Young men of marriageable age used to hunt lions with spears and bows to prove their bravery, strength, and courage to become a morani (warrior). Led by elders, the Maasai are polygamous and dominated by a patriarchal society. They are known for their ritual dance (jumping as high as possible with feet together), which they perform as a tribute to warriors and their ancestors.
  • From the end of the 19th century, the Germans and British began to visit the area to hunt wildlife. They spent a fortune to amass trophies (elephant tusks, animal skins, rhinoceros horns, the heads of wildlife) which they displayed with pride on their return to Europe. In the early 1950s, the killing of animals became so widespread that it came close to wiping out several species of wildlife (the number of elephants remaining in the Serengeti was barely 50).
  • Throughout the 20th century, the German zoologist Bernhard Grzimek contributed to raising public and international awareness of the importance and universal value of the animals of the Serengeti National Park. With the help of his son Michael, he carried out conservation activities and actively fought against poaching. He also made it possible to map the routes taken by the herbivores during the great migration. Grzimek made an Oscar-winning documentary film in 1960 (“Serengeti Must Not Die”) that he dedicated to his son, who died in a plane crash while flying over the park. In 1951, his work led to the establishment and sanctuary of the Serengeti National Park by the British colonial authority, which ended large-scale hunting practices. Grzimek’s advocacy of an end to permanent human occupation within the park boundaries also led to the relocation of the semi-nomadic Maasai tribes. Following Tanzania’s independence in 1961, the first President, Julius Nyerere, continued the work of the German zoologist by strengthening conservation measures. The Maasai was forced to relocate to the highlands of the Ngorongoro Crater. Their territorial range was subsequently reduced as successive governments sought to resettle them and expropriate their land.
  • The Serengeti plains are teeming with insects of all kinds. Although not visible in the grasslands, insects play a key role in the food chain as they are a valuable food source for birds.
  • Lions are not the most conspicuous animals in terms of their propensity to hunt. Lionesses are the hunters, while males provide protection for the pride’s cubs from predators such as hyenas or leopards.
  • The elephant population, victim of poaching, has been divided by 5 in 20 years. Despite strict laws to protect the wildlife of the Serengeti National Park, poachers kill thousands of animals during the annual migration, especially in the Maswa Game Reserve (ivory and bushmeat trafficking). During this long and dangerous journey, some species have adopted the habit of traveling together to increase protection from predators. This is the case of the wildebeest, who use their highly developed sense of smell, and the zebra, who use their above-average sense of sight.
  • In recent years and to preserve the wildlife of the region, local farmers have been forbidden to graze their livestock in the Serengeti protected area. The intensification of agriculture and livestock farming around the park’s boundaries is damaging habitat, depleting the ecosystem, and disrupting the animals’ migration routes.
  • Ngorongoro has one of the largest calderas in the world (over 22 kilometers in diameter and 600 meters deep). The last eruption of this extinct volcano, located at 2,200 meters above sea level, was two million years ago.
  • Plans for roads, dams on the Mara River, and a new airport project could threaten and eventually alter the animals’ migration areas.
  • The best time to witness the great migration is from December to July, when the rains move south. As they approach the Mara River, it may take several days for the herbivores to decide to cross this perilous obstacle.
  • Use the skills of a guide to benefit from local knowledge of the terrain, explore the park safely and observe the wildlife with professional guidance. As the Serengeti National Park is a sensitive natural area, it is important to minimize your impact on the environment.
  • A hot air balloon ride over the reserve will open vistas of areas that are off-limits to vehicles, as well as to enjoy sights of the natural resources and wildlife of the Serengeti National Park.
  • Do not miss the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, whose crater covers more than 300 km². Although less popular with visitors, its vast plains and volcanic highlands are populated by many wild animals. Further north, between Ngorongoro and Lake Natron, lies the stratovolcano Ol Doinyo Lengai. This active volcano is a sacred site for the Maasai, who perform ritual ceremonies and animal sacrifices here (its name means “Mountain of the Gods”).
  • Slightly west of the Serengeti National Park is the Grumeti Game Reserve. This private concession offers the unique opportunity to explore its lush bushveld on foot with an experienced guide. This experience alerts the senses and stimulates better observation of wildlife behaviour in their natural habitat.
  • If you feel threatened or in danger at the sight of a predator, you are advised not to run or shout. Wait as calmly as possible for the animal to move in one direction and then you can slowly begin to move away from it without ever turning your back.

Where to eat

  • Serengeti Serena Safari Lodge
    (tempting buffet)
  • Serengeti Migration Camp
    (in the middle of the savannah)
  • Four Seasons Safari Lodge...
    (three restaurants in one)

Where to go

  • Ngorongoro Conservation Area
    (largest caldera in the world)
  • Lake Natron
    (salt-water lake)
  • Olduvai Gorge
    (site of historic importance)

Where to stay

  • Robanda Tented Camp
    (comfortable and functional)
  • Singita Faru Faru Lodge
    (fused with nature)
  • Singita Sasakwa Lodge
    (the ultimate in luxury)