Tanzania

Serengeti National Park

The Serengeti supports the greatest concentration of plains game in Africa. Frequently dubbed the eighth wonder of the world, it was granted the status of a World Heritage Site in 1978, and became an International Biosphere Reserve in 1981. Its far-reaching plains of endless grass, tinged with the twisted shadows of acacia trees, have made it the quintessential image of a wild and untarnished Africa. Large prides of lions laze easily in the long grasses, numerous families of elephants feed on acacia bark, and giraffes, antelope, monkeys, eland and a whole range of other African wildlife is here in awe-inspiring numbers. The park is the centre of the Serengeti Ecosystem - the combination of the Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Kenya's Masai Mara and four smaller game reserves. Within this region live an estimated three million large animals. The system protects the largest single movement of wildlife on earth - the annual wildebeest migration. This is a phenomenal sight: thousands upon thousands of animals, particularly wildebeest and zebra, as far as the eye can see.

Ins and outsGetting there

There are several airstrips inside the park used by charter planes arranged by the park lodges and by Coastal Air.

By road, the Serengeti is usually approached from the Ngorongoro Crater Reserve. From the top of the crater the spectacularly scenic road with a splendid view of the Serengeti plains winds down the crater walls on to the grasslands below. Along here the Masai tribesmen can be seen herding their cattle in the fresher pastures towards the top of the crater. Shortly before the Serengeti's boundary there is the turning off to Olduvai Gorge where most safari companies stop. Then entry is through the
Naabi Hill Gate
to the southeast of the park where there is a small shop and information centre. From here it is 75 km to
Seronera
, the village in the heart of the Serengeti, which is 335 km from Arusha. Approaching from Mwanza or Musoma on the shore of Lake Victoria, take the road east and you will enter the Serengeti through the
Ndabaka Gate
in the west through what is termed as the Western Corridor to the Grumeti region. This road requires 4WD and may be impassable in the rainy season. There is a third, less frequently used gate in the north,
Ikoma Gate
that lies a few kilometres from Seronera. This also goes to Musoma but again is not a very good road.

Getting around

Most tourists use a safari package from either Arusha or Mwanza but it is possible to explore in your own vehicle. However, the roads are quite rough and you can expect hard corrugations, (especially the road from Naabi Hill to Seronera) where there are deep ruts, and in many regions of the park there is a fine top soil known locally as 'black cotton', which can get impossibly sticky and slippery in the wet. This is especially true of the Western Corridor. The dry season should not present too many problems. The Park Headquarters are at Seronera and there are airstrips at Seronera, Lobo and Grumeti, and at many of the small exclusive camps.

Park information and entry fees

The entry fee is US$50 for adults and US$10 for children aged between 5 and 16 years.

Climate

The dry season runs from June to October, the wet between March and May and in between is a period of short rains, during which time things turn green. At this time of year there are localized rain showers but it's more or less dry. With altitudes ranging from 920 to 1850 m, average temperatures vary from 15 to 25 °C. It is coldest from June to October, particularly in the evenings.

Background

The name is derived from the Masai word '
siringet
' meaning 'extended area' or 'endless plains'. A thick layer of ash blown from volcanoes in the Ngorongoro highlands covered the landscape between 3-4 million years ago, preserved traces of early man, and enriched the soil that supports the southern grass plains. Avoided by the pastoralist Masai because the woodlands had tsetse flies carrying trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), the early European explorers found this area uninhabited and teeming with game. Serengeti National Park was established in 1951 and at 14,763 sq km is Tanzania's second largest national park (after Selous). It rises from 920-1850 m above sea level and its landscape varies from the long and short grass plains in the south, the central savannah, the more hilly wooded areas in the north and the extensive woodland in the western corridor. The
Maswa Game Reserve
adjoins its western border.

Wildlife

During the rainy season the wildebeest, whose population has been estimated at around 1,500,000, are found in the eastern section of the Serengeti and also the Masai Mara in Kenya to the north. When the dry season begins at the end of June the annual migration starts as the animals move in search of pasture. Just before this, they concentrate on the remaining green patches, forming huge herds, the rutting season begins and territories are established by the males, who then attempt to attract females into their areas. Once mating has occurred, the herds merge together again and the migration to the northwest begins. The migrating animals do not all follow the same route. About half go west, often going outside the park boundaries, and then swing northeast. The other half go directly north. The two groups meet up in the Masai Mara in Kenya. To get to the west section of the Serengeti and the Masai Mara, where they will find pasture in the dry season, the wildebeest must cross a number of large rivers and this proves too much for many of them. Many of the weaker and older animals die during the migration. Needless to say predators follow the wildebeest on their great trek and easy pickings are to be had. The animals have to cross the Mara River where massive Nile crocodiles with thickset jaws lick their lips in anticipation of a substantial feed. For any visitor to Tanzania, the herds are a spectacular sight. They return to the southeast at the end of the dry season (October-November) and calving begins at the start of the wet season (March).

W This migration to the Masai Mara and back again usually lasts seven to eight months and the biggest concentration of wildebeest can be seen in the Serengeti between November and June before they begin to head north again.

The Serengeti is also famous for cheetah, leopards and lions, some of which migrate with the wildebeest while others remain in the central plain. Prides of lions are commonly seen, leopards are most frequently detected resting in trees during the daytime along the
Seronera River, whereas cheetahs are usually spotted near the Simba Kopjes. The elephant
population in Serengeti was estimated to have fallen fivefold during the mid 1970-1980s thanks to poaching, though since then the numbers have slowly increased. Birdlife is prolific and includes various species of kingfishers, sunbirds and rollers, ostrich, egrets, herons, storks, ibis, spoonbills and ducks. Birds of prey include Ruppell's vulture and the hooded vulture, several varieties of kestrels, eagles, goshawks and harriers.

Routes

If you are approaching the Serengeti from the southeast (from the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area),
Lake Ndutu
, fringed by acacia woodland, lies southeast of the main road. Lake Ndutu is a soda lake, with a substantial quantity of mineral deposits around the shoreline. It is home to many birds, including flamingos. During the rainy
season it offers excellent opportunities to see a large variety of animals including predators.
Next you will reach the
Short Grass Plains
. The flat landscape is broken by the
Gol Mountains
, to the right, and by kopjes. The grass here remains short during both the wet and dry seasons. There is no permanent water supply in this region as a result of the nature of the soil. However, during the rains water collects in hollows and depressions until it dries up at the end of the wet season. It is then that the animals begin to move on.

The
Southern Plains
provide nutritious grasses for the wildebeest, and when the short rains come in November these mammals move south to feed. In February-March, 90% of female wildebeest give birth and the plains are filled with young calves.

Naabi Hill Gate
marks the end of the Short Grass and beginning of the
Long Grass Plains
. Dotted across the plains are
kopjes
. These interesting geological formations are
made up of ancient granite that has been left behind as the surrounding soil structures have
been broken down by centuries of erosion and weathering. They play an important role in the ecology of the plains, providing habitats for many different animals from rock hyraxes (a small rabbit-like creature whose closest relation is actually the elephant) to cheetahs.

The kopjes that you might visit include the
Moru Kopjes
in the south of the park to the left of the main road heading north. You may be lucky enough to see the Verreaux eagle, which sometimes nests here. The Moru Kopjes have a cave with Masai paintings on the wall and a rock called
Gong Rock
after the sound it makes when struck with a stone. There are also the
Simba Kopjes
on the left of the road before reaching Seronera, which, as their name suggests, are often a hideout for lions.

Passing through the Long Grass Plains in the wet season from around December to
May is an incredible experience. All around, stretching into the distance, are huge numbers
of wildebeest, Thompson's gazelle, zebra, etc.

The village of
Seronera
is in the middle of the park set in the
Seronera Valley
. It forms an important transition zone between the southern grasslands and the northern woodlands. The area is criss-crossed by rivers, and as a result this is where you are most likely to spot game. It is reached by a gravel road, which is in fairly good condition. Seronara is the best area to visit if you can only manage a short safari. It has a visitor centre and the research institute is based here. It also contains a small museum noted for its giant stick insects (near the lodge). In the approach to Seronera the number of trees increases, particularly the thorny acacia trees. You can expect to see buffalo, impala, lion, hippo and elephant. If you are lucky you might see leopard.

About 5 km north of Seronera the track splits. To the right it goes to Banagi and Lobo beyond, and to the left to the Western Corridor, about 20 km north of Banagi Hill, which is home to both browsers and grazers. At its base is the
Retima Hippo Pool
about 6 km off the main track at Banagi. Banagi was the site of the original Game Department Headquarters before it became a national park. North of here the land is mainly rolling plains of both grassland and woodland with a few hilly areas and rocky outcrops.

In the northeast section of the park is the
Lobo Northern Woodland
. Wildlife remains in this area throughout the year including during the dry season. The area is characterized by rocky hills and outcrops, where pythons sunbathe, and woodlands frequented by elephants fringe the rivers. Lobo is the site of the
Lobo Lodge
, 75 km from Seronera. Further north is the Mara River with riverine forest bordering its banks. This is one of the rivers that claims many wildebeest lives every year during the migration. You will see both hippo and crocodile along the river banks.

If you take the left-hand track where the road splits north of Seronera you will follow the
Grumeti Western Corridor
. The best time to follow this track is in the dry season (June-October) when the road is at its best and the migrating animals have reached the area. Part of the road follows, on your right, the Grumeti River, fringed by lush riverine forest, home to the black and white colobus monkey. On the banks of the river you will
also see huge crocodiles basking in the sun. The Musabi and Ndoha Plains to the northwest
and west of Seronera respectively can be viewed if you have a 4WD. The latter plain is the breeding area of topi and large herds of up to 2000 will often be found here. All but the main routes are poorly marked.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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