site zip: AF TZ 0019 | neighborhood: Masai Mara, Ngorongoro, Selous, Tarangire, Kilimanjaro | region: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, More>>
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Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

What's in a name? This famous national park derives its name from the Maasai word 'Siringitu'- “the place where the land moves on forever" - a name that could not be more apt for this vast natural habitat.

Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park

Serengeti Safari
Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park is a place with the greatest and most varied wildlife population on the planet. The word Africa and safari flash images across our imagination of vast herds of wildebeest and zebra, endless savannas, lions crouched low in the long grass stalking a lone buffalo, the sun blazing down from the vast blue dome of an African sky. Dream of an African safari and we dream of the Serengeti.

Plains of the Serengeti
The Serengeti National Park encompasses an area as large as the state of Connecticut and is part of a much larger eco system embracing Kenya’s Masai Mara to the north and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in the south east.

Wildlife Diversity
This vast eco system is home to an estimated three million large mammals, roaming free and wild. Each year an estimated 1½ million wildebeest, ¼ million zebra and over ¼ million Thompson’s Gazelle move through the Serengeti eco system, driven by instinct, rainfall and available grazing, to provide the greatest wildlife show on Earth, the Great Migration. A large population of non-migratory wildlife includes the great predators of the Serengeti, including lion, leopard, hyena, cheetah and the Nile crocodile.


The Serengeti-Mara-Ngorongoro Ecosystem

Serengeti and Masai Mara - route of the migration

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Regions of the National Park

The area making up Serengeti National Park is geographically diverse, with grasslands in the south, acacia trees dotting the savanna in the centre, more elevated grassland in the north and woodland with black clay plains in the west.

Small rivers, lakes and swamps contribute to the Park’s eco system which is robust enough to support 30 species of large herbivores and almost 500 species of bird. As with Ngorongoro crater, much of the landscape has been sculpted by volcanic activity and climate. A savanna can support more life than any other type of eco system in the world.

The Serengeti covers 14,800 km² (5,700 square miles) and is divided into three main regions.

The Southern Serengeti Plains
Very few trees and miles of grassland are characteristic of the Serengeti and this is what you will find in the southern regions of the park, allowing game viewing for as far as the eye can see. This is where the wildebeest herds congregate from December to May. Other antelope also gather here in large numbers including hartebeest, topi, buffalo and waterbuck.

Kopjes (pronounced "koppies") are isolated granite formations and together with termite mounds are scattered across the region, providing advantageous outlooks for predators.

The Western Serengeti Corridor
Black clay soil, often referred to as “black cotton”, covers this region. It is home to the Grumeti River with its resident Nile crocodiles that feast on the wildebeest and zebra as they cross during their annual migration from May to July.

Yellow Fever trees grow in the wetter areas along the rivers. These commonly grow near standing water and were blamed by early settlers for the high incidence of this disease. They realised that yellow fever and malaria occur near standing water and hence the name attributed to this poor tree. It is found all over the Serengeti.

The Northern Serengeti
This area includes the corridor linking the Serengeti and the Masai Mara. Most of this area is covered by woodlands and hills and it is one of the best locations to see elephant, giraffe and dik dik. In July and August, the vast herds of wildebeest and zebra typically pass through on their annual migration between the southern plains of the Serengeti and the Masai Mara.

Read more about theserengeti National Park:
Wildlife of the Serengeti
Serengeti Adventure Activities
How to get there
Best time to go
Saving the Serengeti | Serengeti and Science

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Wildlife of the Serengeti

The Serengeti is Tanzania's original and most visited national park and is a world heritage site. In terms of both diversity and sheer numbers of wildlife, this National Park is a conservation success. The black rhino remains the exception, as it is all across Africa, still struggling to recover in numbers after extensive poaching. Black rhino are mainly to be found around the kopjes in the central region of the park. At times too, black rhino from the Masai Mara National Reserve will cross into the Serengeti.

The difference between black and white rhino is not in color (both are grey), but is in the shape of their upper lip - pointed in the case of the black rhino (adapted to suit browsing, plucking leaves from branches). The white rhino is typically larger and has a wide squared lip, better suited to grazing of grasses.

A strong population of elephant is now evident. The herds are recovering after extensive poaching in the 1980’s.  The larger concentrations of elephant are found in the north.  

The Serengeti is famed for its annual Great Migration, when a million wildebeest and 500,000 zebra and gizelle will trek over 1,200 miles (2,000 km) during their annual quest for food

Migrating herds in the Serengeti

Each year around July, the vast herds of wildebeest on their annual migration arrive at the Grumeti River banks from the parched southern plains, travelling in 25 mile columns. Frantic with thirst, the animals will face a gauntlet of huge Nile crocodiles as they rush to drink from the Grumeti river. The Grumeti is their first big obstacle in their migration north, and many will drown or be dragged down by crocodiles as they cross the river. This is also the time when the wildebeest mate - a frenzied rut with bulls running ahead of the column to establish and defend territories and round up the passing females for mating.

Eight months after the rut, around February, the females will drop their calves in the Serengeti Plains. Most calves will be born over a 3 week period. Read more about the Great Migration and this amazing survival strategy.

Colobus monkeys populate the riverine woodland along the banks of the Grumeti - all extremely wary of the Nile crocodiles in the river.

Visitors to the Serengeti should note that the migration is a natural event and that each year changes occur in both timing and route.

Serengeti - Grumeti River

The Serengeti offers arguably the best game-viewing in Africa. Even when the migrating herds are elsewhere in the Park or in the Masai Mara, large herds of buffalo, giraffe, elephant herds and vast numbers of eland, impala, Grant’s gazelle and other plains game can be seen.

Predators of the Serengeti include black maned lion, cheetah and hyena, making up the bulk of the predator population. It is believed that there are possibly 3,000 lion in the park. Leopards are found throughout the park but are most prevalent in the region around Seronera. Cheetah are mainly seen in the southeastern plains, often sitting atop kopjes or even safari vehicles, to gain a vantage point to spot their prey. African jackal and a host of smaller predators can also be seen.

Predators take advantage of kopjes in the Southern Serengeti

The larger predators thrive on the huge herds of wildebeest, gazelle and zebra.

The Other Serengeti - There is so much more to the Serengeti than just the larger species. Reptiles, snakes (including pythons), beetles and the 500-plus bird species to be seen across a range of habitats, including black eagles, the ostrich and secretary birds of the open grassland and the diversity of birdlife in the vicinity of Lake Victoria.

The expanse of the African skies, the savanna grasslands and the golden sunsets will be as much a lasting memory as the wildlife. The seasonal rains transform the browns and golds into an endless green carpet scattered with wildflowers. There is a sense of space that prevails across the Serengeti Plains. As popular as the Serengeti might be, in all its vastness you can be the only human to bear witness to the events that unfold before you.

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Serengeti Adventure Activities

Game drivesThe Serengeti safari experience varies widely, limited only by budget and personal preference. Safari vehicles too will differ depending on the type of safari package you purchase. With some you will be in a 4x4 SUV and with others you will be in a pop-top safari van. No matter which you choose, always ensure that the vehicle allows a window seat for each passenger.

Some private concessions are permitted to provide game drives after sunset, when nocturnal creatures and some predators are most active.

Hot air ballooning Gliding above the African savanna is an experience that will stay with you forever. Flights depart at sunrise and you are able to witness the bush come alive in the early morning light. A hearty champagne breakfast is served after your flight and certificates of bravery and achievement are presented to each passenger. Flights are usually around an hour in length.

Walking safarisThese safaris are strictly controlled within the Park and only conducted with an experienced guide, usually a local Maasai. Many walks will follow the migration of the wildebeest herds and their location changes constantly. Typical duration is 5 – 6 days.

Picnic in the bushWhen staying at one the private tented camps or lodges, you can ask your safari guide to arrange a picnic lunch or a romantic bush dinner. Not only is the food amazing but the ambience of dining in the bush is an experience to treasure.

Musical rocks and Rock Paintingsthis is a lesser known activity but a great one to add if you are interested in rock formations and ancient rock paintings. Ask your lodge or safari operator to arrange an excursion for you.

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How to get there

Many overland safaris will depart from Arusha and drive to the Serengeti. This is the lowest cost alternative but can be long, hot and bumpy.  The distance from Arusha to the Park is around 335 km (208 miles). Roads from Lake Manyara, Tarangire and Ngorongoro Crater also link to the Serengeti. Another alternative is to fly with scheduled or charter flights from Arusha, Lake Manyara or Mwanza to the Park.

Best time to go

The Serengeti offers an unforgettable wildlife experience and a visit at any time of the year draws a different crowd. Many travelers visit the Park to witness the Migration from November through June. Most travelers too will avoid the rainy season. However from a photographer’s point of view this may be a chance to photograph the incredible thundershowers and the rainbows that follow.

During the dry season, June through October, the climate of the Serengeti is the coolest and evenings can be particularly chilly.

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Saving the Serengeti

In 1913 the first of the White Hunters arrived in northern Tanzania and embarked on the merciless pursuit of Africa’s wildlife for trophies, especially targeting the lion population. Thankfully by 1921 a growing awareness developed that was to save Serengeti’s wildlife for future generations. The first conservation initiative established a small game reserve in the vicinity of the Serengeti. This was soon to grow into the vast area now known as the Serengeti National Park. In 1960 Ngorongoro Conservation Area (which makes up part of the greater Serengeti ecosystem) was established thereby increasing the protected area. Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a UNESCO Heritage site and is home to Ngorongoro Crater, a huge volcanic caldera.

Serengeti and Science

Into the late 1950’s Dr Bernhard Grizmek and his son Michael initiated scientific research with aerial surveys of wildlife. The continued work of scientists provides important information with regard to the management and preservation of wildlife parks and their ecology. More is known about the Serengeti National Park than any other ecosystem in the world. It is also one of the oldest ecosystems on earth.

Dr. and Mrs. Leakey discovered the 1.75 million year old remains of Zinjanthropus and Homo habilis in the neighboring Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which paleontologists believe is evidence that mankind evolved in Africa. Visits to Oldupai (also spelled Olduvai) Gorge to see the site where the remains were found can be arranged by your lodge or safari operator.

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