Serengeti

Situated 208 miles (7 hours) from Arusha, the Serengeti National Park is reputed to be Africa’s most famous game reserve, known for its dense predator population and annual Wildebeest Migration.

Created in 1951 and covering some 14,763 sq km, this National Park consists mainly of vast open plains occupied by the range of different species of animals that the plains support.

The Migration

Tanzania’s oldest and most popular national park, the Serengeti (derived from the Maasai word meaning endless plain) is famed for its annual migration, when some six million hooves pound the open plains, as more than 200,000 zebra and 300,000 Thomson’s gazelle join the wildebeest’s trek for fresh grazing, caused by the fact that there is little permanent water to be found. Animal migration is strongly linked to rainfall patterns.Even when the migration is quiet, the Serengeti offers arguably the most scintillating game-viewing in Africa: great herds of buffalo, smaller groups of elephant and giraffe, and thousands upon thousands of eland, topi, kongoni, impala and Grant’s gazelle.The spectacle of predator versus prey dominates Tanzania’s greatest park. Golden-maned lion prides feast on the abundance of plain grazers. Solitary leopards haunt the sporadic acacia trees lining the Seronera River, while a high density of cheetahs prowls the south eastern plains. Almost uniquely, all three African jackal species occur here, alongside the spotted hyena and a host of more elusive small predators.

Bio-diversity in the Serengeti

But there is more to Serengeti than large mammals. Gaudy agama lizards and rock hyraxes scuffle around the surfaces of the park’s isolated granite kopjes. A full 100 varieties of dung beetle have been recorded, as have 500-plus bird species, ranging from the outsized ostrich and bizarre secretary bird of the open grassland, to the black eagles that soar effortlessly above the Lobo Hills.

Stark wet and dry season contrasts on the Serengeti

As enduring as the game-viewing is,  the liberating sense of space that characterises the Serengeti Plains, stretching across sun burnt savannah to a shimmering golden horizon at the end of the earth. Yet, after the rains, this golden expanse of grass is transformed into an endless green carpet flecked with wildflowers. And there are also wooded hills and towering termite mounds, rivers lined with fig trees and acacia woodland stained orange by dust.Popular the Serengeti might be, but it remains so vast that you may be the only human audience when a pride of lions masterminds a siege, focused unswervingly on its next meal.The short grass plains stretching south east from the focal point of Seronera to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area are termed ‘classic’ Serengeti, densely populated with wildlife all year through, especially between December and May, when the rains act as a magnet to the migrant herds.

The different character of northern Serengeti

To the north of Seronera, the northern third of the Serengeti is characterised by green, rolling hills that gently lead you towards the Kenya border. This part of the Serengeti has a cover of dense acacia woodland, only broken by occasional tracts of open grassland. Because of this foliage, the northern Serengeti does not match the south in terms of game viewing, and because of this is far more peaceful and un-populated.Only when the migration passes through between September and October does this part of the park come into its own. Despite this apparent short ‘migration window’ there is still plenty to see, including the fact that area supports most of the park’s elephant population, and is particularly noted for large prides of lions as well as cheetah, leopard and spotted hyena to be found at the base of the Lobo Hills.

Western Serengeti and Grumeti

The relatively narrow arm of the Serengeti that stretches west from Seronera towards Lake Victoria is generally flatter than the northern parts of the park, but moister and more densely vegetated than the southern plains. The dominant features are the Grumeti and Mbalageti rivers as they flow from east to west until they empty into Lake Victoria. Game viewing is pretty good throughout the year, especially to the south of the Grumeti where you will find lion, giraffe, zebra and wildebeest. The Grumeti comes into its own between May and July when the migration attempts to cross it, providing a feeding bonanza for the resident dense population of crocodiles.