Serengeti National Park

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    Lions, Serengeti National Park

    Lions on a Kopje in the Serengeti
    ••• Lions Resting on a Kopje Lions on a Kopje in the Serengeti. © Anouk Zijlma

    Serengeti Facts and Information

    The Serengeti National Park in Tanzania was established in 1952. It is home to the greatest wildlife spectacle on earth - the great migration of wildebeest and zebra. The resident population of lion, cheetah, elephant, giraffe, and birds is also impressive. There's a wide variety of accommodation available, from luxury lodges to mobile camps. The park covers 5,700 sq miles, (14,763 sq km), it's larger than Connecticut, with at most a couple hundred vehicles driving around.

    The Park can be divided into 3 sections. The popular southern/central part (Seronera Valley), is what the Maasai called the "serengit", the land of endless plains. It's classic savannah, dotted with acacias and filled with wildlife. The western corridor is marked by the Grumeti River, and has more forests and dense bush. The north, Lobo area, meets up with Kenya's Masai Mara Reserve, is the least visited section.

    Click on the photos below for information about Serengeti's wildlife,...MORE accommodation and activities.

    More than 3,000 lions call the Serengeti home. You're sure to see them lounging on a "kopje", rocky outcrops that provide excellent views over the savannah.

    With several thousand resident lions, the Serengeti National Park is an excellent destination for those wanting to see the big cats in action. The wide open plains in southern and central Serengeti also provide a perfect backdrop for seeing a lion kill in action. When the wildebeest and zebra migration is in full swing here, you have a very good chance of seeing a hunt.

    Dotted around the Serengeti plains are "kopjes", a South African term for a rocky outcrop. Almost every one we drove up to, played host to a family of yawning lions. They do rest for 20 hours a day, so discovering where they like to snooze is a smart way to locate them.

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  • 02 of 12

    The Great Annual Migration through the Serengeti Plains

    Serengeti Great Migration, Zebra, Tanzania
    ••• Zebra's on the move in the Serengeti Serengeti Great Migration, Zebra, Tanzania. © Anouk Zijlma

    The great annual migration of millions of wildebeest and zebra starts and ends in the Serengeti National Park. The numbers of zebra are increasing every year.

    In June 2010 I witnessed the great annual migration for the first time. It was an unbelievable sight to come upon thousands and thousands of zebra with their young, grazing and resting their heads on each others backs, on the central Serengeti plains. We watched a lion stalk a herd of zebra thousands strong, the noise and dust that was kicked up was incredibly impressive.

    When can you see the Great Migration in the Serengeti?
    In December through March the Serengeti plains and the Ngorongoro Conservation areas in northern Tanzania are just buzzing with life, this is calving season. Most of the wildebeest calves are born in just a three week period, usually the beginning of February. Calves attract predators and this is an amazing time of year to watch impressive lion kills. It's also quite spectacular to see almost half a million...MORE little wildebeest being born and running alongside their mothers.

    The southern Ndutu and Salei plains are the best areas to see the large herds during this time of year. The best places to stay include Ndutu Safari Lodge, Kusini Camp, Lemala Ndutu Camp and any mobile tented camps in the area.

    By April/May the herds begin to migrate west and north to the grassier plains and woodland of the Serengeti’s western Corridor. The rain during this time of year makes it difficult to follow the herds during this stage of their migration. Many of Tanzania's smaller camps in fact shut down due to impassable roads.

    By the end of May the wildebeest and zebra gradually start moving north and individual groups begin to congregate and form much larger herds. This is also the time the wildebeest mate. Western Serengeti is the best place to watch the migration unfold.

    By July the herds reach their first big obstacle, the Grumeti River. The Grumeti river can get deep in places, especially if the rains have been good. This is the first of the spectacular river crossings you can witness.

    Camps along the river during this time make for an incredible safari experience. The best places to stay include: Grumeti River Camp, and Kirawira Camp.

    By November/December the rains start and the herds begin their long trek back from Kenya's Masai Mara area, down to the Serengeti plains.

    During the short rains of November a stay at Klein’s Camp is highly recommended.

    More:

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  • 03 of 12

    Trees of the Serengeti

    Acacia tortilis, (Umbrella Thorn Acacia Tree), Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
    ••• Acacia tortilis, (Umbrella Thorn Acacia Tree) Acacia tortilis, (Umbrella Thorn Acacia Tree), Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. © Anouk Zijlma

    The gorgeous Acacias dot every Serengeti landscape, with their 12 thorny species. They can't run away so they have defend themselves somehow ...

    Equally fascinating as the wildlife you see in the Serengeti National Park, are the trees. There are hundreds of species of trees, I loved the brightly colored Fever trees as well as the Sausage tree. But the ones that really stick out, are the thorny acacias. Since they can't move, they've adapted to defend themselves in amazing ways. The clever thing about the Umbrella Thorn Acacia you see pictured here, is that it has sharp threatening thorns on the outer branches to stop giraffes snacking on them, but the inside branches are actually soft and green.

    You may also see the Whistling acacia, they are quite numerous in the Serengeti. It's an amazing little tree. The thorns surround a hollow pod-like nub, which is home to a ferocious little stinging ant. The ants are attracted to the tree because it produces a very sweet nectar. They in turn...MORE help protect the tree from being grazed upon, by swarming and biting whatever dares touch the tree. If you carefully give the tree a shake, you'll see the army of little ants come out of the pods. Very clever! The little holes in the thorn nubs that allow the ants to come and go, make a whistling sound as the wind blows through, hence the name "Whistling acacia".

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  • 04 of 12

    Serengeti's Camps and Lodges

    Mobile Tented Camp, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
    ••• Accommodations in the Serengeti National Park Mobile Tented Camp, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. © Anouk Zijlma

    Our comfortable, eco-friendly, mobile tented camp on the banks of the Grumeti River, a Tanganyika Wilderness Camp. More Serengeti accommodation info below...

    Even if you are not a camper, it's worth spending a few nights under canvas in a mobile tented camp when you visit the Serengeti National Park. As you can see, it is very comfortable, the toilet flushes, and the shower is warm, courtesy of the staff throwing buckets of hot water into a drum for your bathing pleasure every night. The food is fresh, the staff are fantastic, the camp fire is warm and hippos provide the perfect lullaby (the hyenas less so). The stars are so bright out there, there's no need for a flashlight except to see if any lion are getting too close for comfort. The advantages of a mobile camp is of course that you are where the bulk of the animals are, and in the Serengeti that means you are in the thick of the great annual migration.

    Mobile Camps, Serengeti National Park
    Mobile camps are seasonal camps, they...MORE actually do move their location every 3-6 months. It's certainly luxurious camping, you're not sleeping on a mat, but there is no AC or regular supply of electricity beyond a few solar panels offering basic lights in the tent. Recommendations include:

    Permanent Tented Camps, Serengeti National Park
    Quite different from mobile camps, these permanent tented camps do have some canvas, but they are more like lodges. They tend to be very romantic, luxurious and in excellent locations. Recommendations include:

    Lodging in central Serengeti National Park
    Serengeti does not have a large choice of permanent lodges, the camps are generally better. But it is worth spending a few nights in the central part of the Serengeti. The permanent wildlife population is unparalleled and the scenery is breathtaking. Most of the mobile camps will spend a few months in central Serengeti, but if they have moved on when you wish to visit, here are some other recommendations:

    Lodges in other parts of the Serengeti
    If you like comfort, swimming pools, and walls rather than canvas, here are some more recommendations of permanent lodges in the Serengeti:

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  • 05 of 12

    Cheetah in the Serengeti

    Cheetah, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
    ••• Cheetah Resting at Midday Cheetah, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. © Anouk Zijlma

    There are around 1500 cheetah living in the Serengeti, the second largest population anywhere in the world, so your chances of spotting one on safari are good.

    Cheetahs are hard to spot in the tall grass but this one looked like it just wanted to be photographed by me. This was taken in the southern Serengeti, where the plains are wide open and seemingly go on for ever. The Serengeti eco-system is home to the second largest surviving cheetah population in Africa, there are thought to be between 1000-2000 cheetahs living here. While they are the fastest animals on earth and decent hunters, it's difficult for them to stop their kills from getting scavenged by aggressive hyenas as well as lions. This is particularly discouraging for an animal that expends so much energy on its hunt. Cheetahs will often give up their kill to even a lone hyena because they can't risk injury given their hunting technique. The fact that a female raises her cubs alone also makes it difficult to increase...MORE their numbers. There are a lot of predators out there waiting for her to leave the cubs and go on a hunt.

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  • 06 of 12

    Birds of the Serengeti

    Crested Crane, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
    ••• Crested Cranes Crested Crane. © Anouk Zijlma

    The Crested crane, one of the most spectacular birds in the Serengeti, which is saying something considering there are more than 500 species to choose from.

    When you enter through the main Naabi Hill Gate to the Serengeti National Park, there's a little picnic area. The birds that come scrounging for your lunch are not your ordinary pigeons, or little brown things. Instead, you're almost blinded by the iridescent color of the Superb starling that tries to nab your cold chicken. There are dozens of them. It's a nice introduction to the park and its hundreds of species of birds. Vultures galore around every carcass, battling it out with jackals. There are Cranes, Eagles, Storks, Parrots, Sunbirds, Hornbills, Weavers, Secretary birds -- you name it. Every tree you see has birds on it. The birds are one of the best things about a safari in the Serengeti, and they get the least amount of press. Which is fine, it's like getting an unexpected bonus.

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  • 07 of 12

    Giraffe in the Serengeti National Park

    Giraffe, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
    ••• "Twiga", Tanzania's National Animal A tower of giraffe. © Anouk Zijlma

    Giraffe, my favorite animal to spot on safari, and the Serengeti has lots of these rather shy creatures, nibbling away at trees and sauntering with style.

    No African safari is complete without seeing giraffe and despite their numbers decreasing overall in Africa, there are still plenty roaming the Serengeti National Park. You can find them throughout the park, particularly in the western and northern sections where there are more bushes and trees to graze on. Being the tallest animal in the world, certainly makes it easy to spot them.

    More about the giraffe...

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  • 08 of 12

    Antelope of the Serengeti

    Grant's Gazelle, Serengeti National Park
    ••• Grant's Gazelle, Thomson's gazelle, Impala.... Grant's Gazelle, Serengeti National Park. © Anouk Zijlma

    It takes a few days to figure out the difference between a Grant's gazelle and a Thomson gazelle, but it's all in their behinds...

    The Serengeti is home to more than 20 species of antelope. In just a day you're likely to become a little blase as you encounter yet another herd of gazelle or impala. But dig a little deeper and the gazelles are as fascinating as a pride of lions. The political maneuvering that goes into maintaining a harem, watching out for predators, joining in the great migration and fending off other suitors -- offers the perfect plot for a good thriller. Here's a video clip of our excellent guide Sarumbo explaining how a bachelor group works to gain influence in an established harem.

    In the Serengeti National Park you are very likely to see the following antelope, all unique, with their own stories: Thomson and Grant's gazelle, Wildebeest, Impala, Eland, Topi, Hartebeest, Dikdiks, Klipspringer, Waterbuck, Klipspringer, and Duiker.

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  • 09 of 12

    Hot Air Ballooning in the Serengeti National Park

    Hot Air Ballooning in the Serengeti National Park
    ••• Floating Over the Serengeti Hot Air Ballooning in the Serengeti National Park. © Anouk Zijlma

    A hot-air balloon ride over the Serengeti is an amazing experience. You launch from various spots in the park, depending on where the migration is likely to be.

    A hot air balloon ride over the Serengeti plains in Tanzania is a truly magnificent experience. You tend to spend a lot of time in a vehicle in the Serengeti, so any change of pace after a few days is quite welcome. Since the Serengeti is a National Park, it means night drives, walking safaris and off-roading are all strictly forbidden. So alternative activities (besides the balloon ride) are somewhat limited when compared to a private Game Reserve.

    Serengeti Balloon Safaris is the only balloon safari operator in the Serengeti and they have three balloons which they launch from various locations in the park, often depending on where the migration is likely to be. A Serengeti balloon ride has to be booked months in advance.

    I took a hot-air balloon ride in June (2010) in western Serengeti. The migration had not arrived yet, but as...MORE I soon discovered, the real thrill was from the flight itself. It's not that easy spotting wildlife from above, but the bird song that greets you as you skim over the acacia tree tops is absolutely breathtaking.

    This photo gallery has all the details about hot air balloon flights in the Serengeti, what to expect, how to book, what the take-off and landing procedures are, and much more.

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  • 10 of 12

    Hippos and Crocs in the Serengeti

    Hippo in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
    ••• Hippo out grazing near the Grumeti River Hippo in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. © Anouk Zijlma

    This hippo was a little injured, its unusual to see them grazing during the day like this, even though it was quite early in the morning.

    Hippos and Crocs fill the Grumeti river to the brim in the western part of the Serengeti National Park. We stopped at numerous places along the thin, winding river, the stage for the first dramatic river crossing during the annual migration of wildebeest and zebra. You can park the 4x4 along many sections of the Grumeti river and just enjoy the hippo grunts, watch the bird life, marvel at the prehistoric crocs lying on the banks, and look up to see colobus monkeys in the trees.

    There are several mobile camps and tented camps along the Grumeti just be careful at night when the hippos come out to feed, they can be very dangerous. Our mobile camp looked out over the river, but we were not allowed to walk down to its banks. The noises are wonderful to fall asleep to.

    There are several rivers running through the Serengeti National Park, they include: the...MORE Grumeti in the west; Mbalageti River that runs through the center; the Orangi River that flows across the northern part of the park; and the Semiyu River in the far south. Every one of these rivers are home to hundreds of hippos who submerge themselves with much puffing, and snorting in the pools. The crocodiles lie on any sandy bank they can find, with their mouths open to stay cool. During the night, positions change, the hippos are off grazing on the banks and the crocs take to water.

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    Elephants in the Serengeti National Park

    Elephants in the Serengeti, Tanzania
    ••• Elephants in the Serengeti, Tanzania. © Anouk Zijlma

    With over 2000 elephants living in the Serengeti National Park, you are sure to see them while on safari.

    We saw elephant families of up to 30 individuals, swimming and playing in the mud at waterholes, spraying dust on their backs to cool themselves off, or grazing quietly and stripping down trees. African Elephants are the largest land animals on earth, and there is no way you cannot be impressed by their bulk when you get up close. Poaching in the Serengeti has come under control in the past two decades, so their numbers have been steadily increasing, and we saw lots and lots of babies in June 2010. You do have to watch their behavior, sometimes they can be irritated if you get too close, but as long as you stay quiet and remain in the vehicle, they'll amble on by with just a snort or two. Here's a short video of a mother and her calves, so close we could almost touch them. Right after this moment, we spent half an hour watching the rest of the gang play at a waterhole.

    More about...MORE elephants ...

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    Safari Vehicles in the Serengeti

    Typical Safari Vehicle, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
    ••• Typical Safari Vehicle, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. © Anouk Zijlma

    The typical safari vehicle in the Serengeti is an open topped 4x4 to allow for maximum viewing pleasure.

    It matters what type of safari vehicle you end up in while driving around the Serengeti National Park. Because you are not allowed to off road, you want to be able to poke your head out, and stand on the seats, to get maximum height to see the wildlife clearly, especially when it's far away. It's also ideal to limit the number of passengers to six at the most. Everyone has a preferred animal, or pace they wish to go at on safari. The more people in the vehicle, the longer you may spend gazing at certain animals, with the possibility of missing out on others. Some people wish to rush through checking animals off a list, others are happy to spend an hour just enjoying the birds and plant life. You will find yourself spending at least six hours a day in the car, so make sure it's comfortable and that food and water are in plentiful supply. You also want to go with a good...MORE safari company that maintains its vehicles well. Nothing fun about breaking down in the middle of a herd of buffalo.