Serengeti National Park
The Serengeti National Park, the largest in Tanzania, is about 5,700 sq miles in area. The park's name, Serengeti, means 'endless plains' and is derived from the Maasai language.
The park lies in a high plateau between the Ngorongoro highlands and the Kenya/Tanzania border, and extends almost to Lake Victoria. The park encompasses the main part of the Serengeti ecosystem. The ecosystem is defined by the dominant migration route of the wildebeest and extends into the game reserves and conservation areas that surround the Park's boundaries, supporting over 4 million mammals and birds in what is probably the greatest concentration of wildlife in the world.
It is probably the short grass plains of the Seronera area in the South of the Park that are well known to the visitor. Here we find kopjes, the rocky outcroppings from the sea of grass surrounding them. These form habitats for several species and viewpoints for larger predators, especially the big cats.
Equally scenic and with its own distinct ecosystem is the acacia Savannah and wooded grasslands in the North of the Park in the Lobo/Grumeti area where the Serengeti meets the Kenyan Maasai Mara. It is in this region that the Great Migration begins to congregate for the push to the birthing plains of the South.
The Great Migration is a sight that has to be experienced first hand to be believed. Anyone who sees the huge numbers of wildebeest gathering before trekking north will witness a marvelous sight. Throughout the world it is rare for animal migrations to be completed undisturbed and it is an important conservation achievement that the Tanzanian government has protected this wilderness area and allowed the wildebeest to migrate freely.
One of the most unique and remarkable wildlife experiences in the world is the annual migration of plains game such as the wildebeest, zebra and gazelle from the central plains of Serengeti, westwards or northwards towards the Maasai Mara in search of water and pasture, and back again; this pattern is to be repeated year after year like there is an in-built clock prompting the amazing phenomenon. As the herds move to new grazing ground, they are followed by predators such as lions, hyenas, jackal and hunting dogs waiting for weak prey while vultures soar overhead waiting for their share of the kill. By some estimates, the migration can involve over a million assorted wildlife representing about a quarter of the population found in the Serengeti."
The annual migration into Kenya (in a continuous search of water and pasture) of more than 1.5 million wildebeest, zebra and gazelle is triggered by the rains and usually starts in May, at the end of the wet season. Called the Great Migration, this constitutes the most breathtaking event in the animal kingdom ever known to humans. As the dry season intensifies, the herds drift out towards the west, crossing the Grumeti River, and to the north (to Lake Victoria, where there is permanent water), heading for the permanent waters of the northern rivers and the Mara. The migration instinct is so strong that animals die in the rivers as they dive from the banks into the raging waters only to be dispatched by crocodiles. The survivors concentrate in Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve until the grazing there is exhausted, when they turn south along the eastern and final stage of the migration route.
Before the main exodus, the herds are a spectacular sight, massed in huge numbers with the weak and crippled at the tail end of the procession, followed by the patient vigilant predators, including lions (the adult males of Serengeti have characteristic black manes), cheetahs, hunting dogs and spotted hyena. The migration coincides with the breeding season, which also causes dominance fights among the male of the herd.