Some 135 species of mammals have been recorded in the Serengeti; of which 20 are bats and 26 are mice, rats and gerbils. There 22 antelope species of which the blue Duiker, Greater Kudu, Lesser Kudu, Mountain Reedbuck, Roan and Fringe-eared oryx are very rare. Wildebeest and zebra are the most numerous. Black rhino are very rare but have been re-introduced to Moru Kopjes area where they are protected. Elephant numbers have severely affected by poachers but they are often seen at Seronera and Lobo. Hippo and crocodile are found in rivers and buffalo, reedbuck and waterbuck near permanent water. The predators of serengeti are main attraction, lions and hyenas being the most common. Monkeys, baboons and hyraxes can be seen in the kopjes. Hunting dogs are rarely seen today.
Which animal migrate?
Wildebeest from the bulk of the migration and often follow the zebra. They prefer new shoots and short grasses but they do also eat tall grasses, especially after the zebra and buffalo ‘trimmed’ them. Zebra form the second largest group of migratory animals and follow the same route as the wildebeest, often leading the way. They congregate on the plains during the rainy season and as soon as food becomes scarce, they break up and disperse in family units to minimize grazing pressure in the low production tall grass areas. Eland browse (eat leaves) and graze (eat grass) and are well adapted to almost any environment from lowlands to mountains. Although they do not follow the same migratory routes as wildebeest, they also alternate between the plains and woodland. Thomson’s gazelle has a much shorter route than wildebeest and are first to arrive on the plains and the last to leave. They leave only on short grasses, herbs and forbs. Grant’s Gazelle does not really need to migrate as they are not dependant on water but they do move to a limited extent, mainly locally. Their route is in some cases opposite to that of migratory species, spending the rainy season in open, patches within the woodland and the dry season on the plains.
How many animals migrate?
During good years the wildebeest population alone may reach up to 1.6m. during the peak of rainy the short grass plain supports up to 2 million animals. Census figured during the 1990s estimated the wildebeest population at 1.4- 4.6 million, zebras at +-151,000, Eland at +-12,000, Thomson’s gazelle at +-232,000 and Grant’s gazelle at +-31,000
How far do they travel?
They travel ±1000- 2,000km annually
How much do they eat?
They consume about 4 000 tons of grass every day, that is about 1,46 million of tons of grass per annum. Much of the energy consumed is returned to the soil by means of their droppings.
Which route do they follow?
Early Wet Season (December- April)
During this time the animals are mainly on the Short Grass Plains (from the Gol Mountains in the south-east to Seronera into the north-east, including Lake Ndutu and Moru Kopjes). If there is a dry spell in between, they move west into the Masai Mara Game Reserve and to the Mbalageti Valley. At the first signs of rain, they move back onto the serengeti plains because of the instant availability of new growth.
Late Wet Season (April- June)
During this time there is a general movement to the northwest of the plains, to Maswa Game Reserve, Moru Kopjes and along the Simiyu, Mbalageti, Seronera and Nyabogati Rivers to the Western Corridor. They reach the western corridor in about the mid-June. Part of population moves directly north through Seronera and smaller section moves north on the eastern side of the Serengeti, through the Loliondo Area. From June to July one can see the death-defying crossing of the crocodiles-infested Grumeti River.
Early dry season (July- October)
This is when the bulk of the migratory herds find itself in the Western Corridor and to the area north-east outside the serengeti. A part from the herds reaches the Mara Rivers already in early August- another dangerous obstacle to cross. During September and October a large portion of the herds spills into the Masai Mara Game Reserve.
Late Dry to Early Wet (October- December)
In the late dry season the bulk of the migratory herd starts its trek south through the Lobo area and a long the eastern boundary. Some move straight through Seronera and some move through the Western Corridor. Most of the herd will have reach the Short Grass Plains by the middle of January where they have their young. They follow local rainstorm on the plains to benefit from newly sprout grasses. When the surface water dries up they repeat the cycle again, as they have done for over a million years.
About 518 bird species have been recorded in the Serengeti of which some are residents and some are migrants. Because of the variety of habitats- dry, bush, grassland, salt lake, riverine forest, hills and kopjes- diversity is spectacular. In fact, there are bird species in Serengeti Ecosystem than on the entire North America continent. Water birds such as flamingos, pelicans, ducks and waders are attracted to salt lakes and can be seen at Lake Magadi and Lake Ndutu. Flamingo mainly nests at Lake Natron and they travel very far to feed. The Tawny Eagle, the Bateleur, the eastern Pale Chanting Goshawk and Montagu’s Harrier are the most common raptors on the open plains, the latter two commonly seen along the roads. The Fischer’s Lovebird and the Rufous-tailed Weaver are endemic to northern Tanzania.
Some (October to April) is the best time for bird watching in the Serengeti as there are many European and Asian migrants present. Some breed in Africa but others merely escape the cold winters of the northern hemisphere. Bird-viewing at Lake Ndutu is particular good during the summer. Some of the vultures that occur in the serengeti also nest there, except for the Ruppell’s Griffon which nests mainly in the Olkarien Gorge in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Vultures are known to follow the migration and can do up to a 140km (a round trip of 280km), often in one day! During summer the White Stork is one of the most common birds to be seen on the plains.
The vegetation of the Serengeti can be broadly classified into three major types- the Short Grass Plains in the south-east, the Broad-leafed Woodland of the north and the mosaic of Gassland and Thorn Tree Woodland in the west and south.
There is an ecotone or division that runs roughly through the Seronera Valley, separating the Short Grass Plains from the Thorn Tree and Broad-leafed Woodland. Ecotones haave a higher species density and can sustain large number of herbivores, a fact that is well illustrated iin the large resident animal population in the Seronera.
Most of the Thorntree Woodlands in the serengeti are dominated by thorny acacia and Commiphora species. The woodland in the northwest consist of broad-leafed species, dominated by Teminalia and Combretum. In the Rongai area, south-west of Seronera, the vegetation type is called ‘Wooded Grassland’ and the dominant tree species in this type of grassland is the Green Thorn (Balanities aegytiaca). The most common tree in the Serengeti is the Umbrella Thorn (Acacia tortilis) that grows on the plains and near kopjes. Closer to water the Sausage Tree (Kigelia africana). Fever tree (Acacia xanthophloea), the Wild Date Palm (Phoenix reclinata), the sycamore fig (Ficus sycomorus) and Strangling fig (Ficus thonningii), all are common. The Rock Fig (Ficus lutea) with its white trunk and the Candelabra (Euphorbia candelabrum) stand out on the kopjes. Large stands of Whistling Thorns (Acacia depranolobium) can also be seen. There 16 species of Acacia trees in the park. In spring the wild flowers are spectacular.
Formation of the underlying rocks
More than 500 million years ago the entire region was covered with water, forming a huge sea into which thousands of meters of sand and mud were deposited. The first layer was compacted and form mudstones, sandstones and shale. The weight caused the rock to become folded and some changed chemically to form quartzite, quartz, feldspar, mica, hornblende, kianite and garnet. At the same time molten rock began to push its way up through the existing rock and solidified to form granite. The shale and mudstones changed chemically and mixed with layer of granite to form gneisses.
Formation of the hills
Most of the hills in the serengeti consist of the Precambrian volcanic rocks, obscured by subsequently formed sedimentary and meta-sedimentary rocks from the late Precambrian era. The upper layer consists of recent alluvial deposits such as heavy clays lighter soils derived from sandstone and quartzite.
Formation of kopjes
The kopjes (inselbergs) form part of the underlying rocks of the area and consist mainly of Precambrian gneisses with some granite. They have proved to be more resistant to the elements. Constant exposure to warm and cold caused the rocks to crack near the surface, shedding their layer as though peeling and ultimately resulting in the characteristic, rounded rocks on the kopjes.
Formation of the Plains
About 20 million years ago the Great Rift Valley was formed- a linear depression created sinking of intermediate crusty rocks between to or more parallel strike-slip faults. A few rents remain through which lava was forced forming volcanoes which ultimately resulted in the craters of the Ngorongoro Highlands. The volcanic ash emitted from the volcanoes was deposited mainly on the direction of the prevailing winds to the north-east, thus forming the vast, open plains. Because of their volcanic origin, the soils of the plain are rich and support nutritious grasses that sprout instantly after first rains, attracting millions of grazers.
There is evidence of early Hadzabe (watindiga), Maasai and German occupation. Hadzabe- they lived as hunter-gatherers, hunting with bow and poisoned arrows. Their physical characteristics and traditions correspond with those of the San (also known as Bushmen) of Southern Africa. Cultural sites indicative of their presence were found along the Mbalageti River. Today, they live near Lake Eyasi. Maasai- About 200 years ago the Maasai moved into the serengeti/Ngorongoro area in search for the grazing area for their cattle. As a fierce warrior tribe, many battles followed, mainly with the Datoga. From the late 1890s the Maasai were severely affected by Rinderpest, drought, famine and locusts. Legislation under the colonial rule denied them much of their dry-season grazing. In 1958 they relinquished their rights to graze their cattle in the Serengeti and they then moved to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area where about 40,000 Maasai live by then. Europeans- During the period of colonization, the German occupied Tanzania and called it Deutch Ost-Afrka. Historical Sites of German occupation were found in the western corridor of the Serengeti. The first recorded European sighting of the Serengeti Plains was by German explorer, Baumann in 1892/3. In the early 1900s there was an influx of European hunters and collectors. How sad to think that in those days the big cats and Hunting Dogs were considered vermin and rhino were hunted for pleasure. The ivory trade also took its toll on the Elephant population.
Establishment of the park
During the early 1900s the German colonists drew up legislation to protect the area but then World War One broke out. The British took up and in 1929 a 2 286sq km area around Seronera was declared a game reserve, in 1935 the hunting of lions in the Seronera Valley was stopped and in 1951 the Serengeti National Park (which included the Ngorongoro Conservation Area) was established. In 1957 Professor Bernard Grzimek and his son, Michael, started doing the first aerial count and in 1959 the park was divided into the Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The Lamai wedge, situated between the Mara River and the Kenya border, was added to compensate for the loss and the Maasai were moved to Ngorongoro Conservation Area. In 1981 the Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, were declared an International Biosphere Reserve.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
Seronera is the most important tourist destination in the serengeti because of its easy access and good infrastructure. It forms a transitional zone between open grassland in the south-east and wooded grassland in the north-west and supports a higher diversity of fauna and flora and a large animal population.
Seronera Information Centre
It is situated next to the wildlife offices in Seronera and consist of an open-air exhibit on a kopje. There are table and shade available where one can enjoy a packed lunch and is possible to order tea, coffee or soft drinks.
There is nothing to compare with sensation of feeling as free as a bird and enjoying the scenery in utter silence whilst soaring weightlessly through the air. One can book a balloon safari at any of the lodges and they will take you to the meeting place at the Serengeti Wildlife Lodge. The rise itself is about on and half hours long, after you are treated to champagne breakfast on the Serengeti Plains- it simply magic!
The area is very popular during the winter (between May and August) when the wildebeest and zebra migration crosses the Grumeti River. Permanent pools of water in the Grumeti and Mbalageti ensure a large resident population of animals throughput the year. Lions, Cheetah, Hyenas and Leopards are plentiful. The crocodiles of the Grumeti are gigantic and worth seeing. The Handajenga and Mbalageti Rivers have the highest population of Topi left in Africa. The Mbalageti area is also refuge for African Hunting Dogs, Roan Antelope and rare Patas Monkey. It is worth doing all the lops along the Grumeti and Mbalageti Rivers.
There many residents animal in the area because of permanent water, including giraffe, elephant, lions, hyena and klipspringer. From July to November the migratory herds move north through the area to the Masai Mara Game Reserve and then from November to December they move south again to return to the South Grass Plains.
This is one of the prime destinations in the serengeti, especially during the rains when the migratory animals concentrate on the Short Grass Plains in the south. During this time, depending on local rains, there short movement between Gol Kopjes, Naabi, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Lake Ndutu and Maswa Game Reserve. There are always at least some wildebeests and zebras at Lake Ndutu and birdlife are spectacular at all times. Lions, hyenas, cheetah and giraffes are commonly seen.
The Moru Kopjes area is located on one of major migratory routes. There is enough surface water, springs, wetlands, forage and minerals licks to support large number of animals. One is not allowed to approach Moru Kopjes from Simba Kopjes in the east. The road has been closed by means of white rocks at the Hippo Pool, +-7km west of Simba Kopjes. One has to approach Moru Kopjes from Lake Magadi. The area is carefully guarded by wildlife officer to protect the black rhinos against poachers. The rhinos have been re-introduced to the area and the project is sponsored by the Frankfurt Zoological Society..
Maasai Rock Painting
As recently as the 1950s, Maasai pastoralists still lived in the area. On one of the kopjes there is some Maasai rock paintings which serve as evidence of their earlier presence. The painting s was most likely a means of communication between clans- a way of leaving their signature and letting other clans know that they had been there.
Near the rock paintings one can see the Gong Rocks which of large rocks with holes on the vertical side. It has been suggested that were used to produce a sound to call tribe or clan member together, may be after hunt.
Lake Magadi is just north of Moru Kopjes. It is very scenic area and excellent place to see animals and water birds, including flamingos.
Short Grass Plains
The soil on the plains is of volcanic origin, the result of emitted from the volcanoes that formed the Ngorongoro highlands. In places the underlying rocks protrude above the surface and eroded to form the kopjes so typical of the landscape. The soil are fertile, supporting vast numbers of game- up to 2 million animals during the rains. During the dry season (May to October), the plains appear to be a vast stretch of nothingness, almost totally devoid of animals. The Short Grass Plains cover the eastern part of Ngorongoro Conservation Area up to Seronera, including Lake Ndutu and Moru Kopjes.
It is a good place to stay when the migration is on the plains. There is a short trail up the hill, ablution facilities, the picnic tables and a small shop- ideal place to enjoy a packed lunch.
The main kopjes in Serengeti are Maasai, Simba, Gol and Barafu kopjes. The Maasai kopjes are only 12km south-east of Seronera. Predators, especially lions are abundant in the area. One can often see buffalo here as it is reasonably close to permanent water. Simba kopjes are situated right next to the main road, 32km from Seronera and 16km from Naabi Gate. During the migration, this is one of the best places to see predators and it contains critical denning sites. The road leads to all kopjes and you are bound to find lion. It is necessary to get a guide at Naabi Gate to accompany you. Barafu kopjes- although the kopjes themselves are not particular attractive, routes, the one from Seronera and the one from Gol Kopjes to Barafu kopjes are very interesting. One needs a guide to go to Barafu kopjes and this can be organized at the wildlife office at Seronera or Naabi Gate. The Barafu Gorge, which is in fact not more than a dry river bed, is an important catchment area and an important predator breeding site, especially for cheetah. From Barafu to Gol kopjes one crosses the true short grass plains of the Serengeti which stretch end-lessly, resembling a well-kept lawn. The game in this area is plentiful and apart from other plains game, one can see herds of Eland.
WHERE TO STAY
There only two public campsites in the serengeti, one at Seronera and one at Lobo. If you joined a registered mobile safari company, you can stay at a special campsite, all of whichn are indicated on the map.
Rongai S/C/S no. 1,2 & 3
Moru kopjes S/C/S no. 7, 8 & 9
Seronera area: dik-dik, Pimbi, Nyani, Ngiri, Kuro, Tumbili, Nyegere, Airstrip S/C/S and S/C/S no.5,9,11 & 12 plus two Service Camp Sites, Makoma Hill and Kubu Kubu S/CS.
Kirawira: Service Camp Sites no. 1 & 2
Lake Ndutu: Nyumba, Ndutu Extra, Kakakuona, Tandawala, Muanga, Mbwena, Nungunungu, Millennium no. 1 & 2
Lobo: Lobo no. 1 & 2
The localities of the lodges below are indicated on the map:
Seronera: Seronera W ildlife Lodge, Serengeti Serena Lodge
Moru: Serengeti Sopa Lodge
South: Kusini Camp
Western Corridor; Kirawira Serena Tented Camp, Grumeti Tented Camp
Lobo: Lobo Lodge, Migration Camp
The main road indicate on the map are graveled but the secondary roads are mostly bush trucks. The main roads are at times very corrugated because of heavy use. It is all cases advisable to use a 4×4 vehicle.