Serengeti National Park
A million wildebeest… each one driven by the same ancient rhythm, fulfilling its instinctive role in the inescapable cycle of life: a frenzied three-week bout of territorial conquests and mating; survival of the fittest as 40km (25 mile) long columns plunge through crocodile-infested waters on the annual exodus north; replenishing the species in a brief population explosion that produces more than 8,000 calves daily before the 1,000 km (600 mile) pilgrimage begins again.
Tanzania’s oldest and most popular national park, the Serengeti 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 wildebeestâ€™s trek for fresh grazing. Yet 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 Grantâ€™s gazelle.
The spectacle of predator versus prey dominates Tanzaniaâ€™s greatest park. Golden-maned lion prides feast on the abundance of plain grazers. Solitary leopards haunt the acacia trees lining the Seronera River, while a high density of cheetahs prowls the southeastern plains. Almost uniquely, all three African jackal species occur here, alongside the spotted hyena and a host of more elusive small predators, ranging from the insectivorous aardwolf to the beautiful serval cat.
But there is more to Serengeti than large mammals. Gaudy agama lizards and rock hyraxes scuffle around the surfaces of the parkâ€™s isolated granite koppies. A full 100 varieties of dung beetle have been recorded, as have 500-plus bird species, ranging from theÂ out-sizedÂ ostrich and bizarre secretary bird of the open grassland, to the black eagles that soar effortlessly above the Lobo Hills.
As enduring as the game-viewing is the liberating sense of space thatÂ characterizesÂ the Serengeti Plains, stretching across sunburnt 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,Â focusedÂ unswerving on its next meal.
Size: 14,763 sq km (5,700 sq miles).
Location: 335km (208 miles) from Arusha, stretching north to Kenya and bordering Lake Victoria to the west.
Scheduled and charter flights from Arusha, Lake Manyara and Mwanza.
Drive from Arusha, Lake Manyara, Tarangire or Ngorongoro Crater.
What to do
Hot air balloon safaris, Maasai rock paintings and musical rocks.
Visit neighbouring Ngorongoro Crater, Olduvai Gorge, Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano and Lake Natron’s flamingos.
When to go
To follow the wildebeest migration, December-July. To see predators, June-October
Four lodges, four luxury tented camps and camp sites scattered through the park;
one luxury camp, a lodge and two tented camps just outside.
The route and timing of the wildebeest migration is unpredictable. Allow at least three days to be assured of seeing them on your visit – longer if you want to see the main predators as well.
Migration in the Serengeti
The wildebeest migration, like a discernible thread, embraces and connects the Serengeti’s ecosystem much as it has done for at least two millions years. Every year, with some seasonally dictated variations in timing and scale, one million wildebeest leave the southern Serengeti’s short grass plains in search of the grass and water they need to survive.
During their annual pilgrimage they will travel some 2.000 miles devouring 4.000 tonnes of grass a day. A quarter of a million will be born, many will die.
The migration is in the southeastern Serengeti on the short-grass plains after the short rains which have nurtured fresh grass. This month and December are the peak months for zebra birth.
The short-grass plains are the main feeding ground for some two million wildebeest, zebra and gazelle. Predators lurk close by, feeding on the newborn. This is the main month for wildebeest calving.
Beginning of the long and heavy rains. Clouds, growing in intensity, appear from the south andÂ occasionalÂ lightning illuminates the night sky. The short-grass plains’ pastures are nearing exhaustion and the newborn can keep up with the herds.
Heaviest rainy month. Wildebeest are almost evenly scattered on the short-grass plains.
Good forage still available but water begins to be a limited factor. Now the vast herds begin to coalesce with columns containing hundreds of thousands stretched over many km as they had across the woodland zones into the Western Corridor where new food and water has been generated by the rains around Grumeti.
Rains come to an end and the herds leave the black-cotton-soil plains, crossing the Grumeti River where many wildebeest drown every year providing food for the crocodiles who lurk at crossing points. In a normal year they will be in Seronera/Moru kopjes area.
The migration now heads northwest briefly leaving the park as they enter the Grumeti Controlled Area, with a small portion of the herd heading towards the Lobo area. Visitors should note that morning temperatures have fallen sharply.
The migration and the ever-attendant predators trailing now cross the Ikorongo controlled Area. The various branches of the migration begin to meet up. The migration in a normal year should now be in the northern Serengeti and entering Maasai Mara. It is still cold in the mornings.
The migration has now entered Kenya’s Maasai Mara Game Reserve just across the northern border from the Serengeti. Temperatures begin to rise and the skies are blue by day.
This is the driest month in the Serengeti with the bulk of the animals briefly absent in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve where there is always plentiful water and better grazing for the plains animals at this time of year.
As if sensing the oncoming short rains with clouds gathering in the sky, the migration begins its trek back home to the Serengeti. Flame trees are beginning to blossom and migrant birds start to arrive.
The migration increases its pace as it heads towards Serengeti’s southern plains where the short rains are generating the grass. It follows the Loliondo boundary of the park and the zebra begin to give birth.
The history of human inhabitation revolves largely around the history of the African people, from the hunter-gatherers who wandered the plains, to the people of today who protect it as a main destination for travellers. The Serengeti’s history has been virtually ignored, except Olduvai Gorge, where the Leakey family discovered fossils of human and animal ancestors dating back to almost two million years, and which is part of the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area. Tsetse flies in the woodlands, and sleeping sickness, guaranteed that the Serengeti was spared of European settlement, and with it the distinction of the wildlife that other African countries were subjected to.
Exciting walking safaris
unforgetable balloon ride in the Serengeti