The Serengeti Plain of Tanzania and Kenya

Updated: Nov 29, 2018

"There is a lightening of the spirit,” Cyril Connolly wrote about the vast plain. “There's more to see than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done." When musicians Elton John and Tim Rice wrote the opening tune to Disney's "The Lion King," they were describing the "Circle of Life." But this lyric serves as a fitting description for world-renowned Serengeti Plain and the Serengeti National Park. When I think of the serengeti, what comes to mind are images from the lion king. It is the excitement and the chance to witness one of the magnificent natural phenomenons, The Great Migration and witness the wild in their natural habitats. One could not stop but imagine if the regal lion king story does in fact exist in such vast plain.

The Serengeti, is a world-renowned ecoregion stage for some of the most spectacular mass game migrations in the world. Although populations fluctuate, there are an estimated 1.3 million blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus), 200,000 plains zebra (Equus burchelli), and 400,000 Thomson’s gazelle (Gazella thomsoni) migrating between this ecoregion and the Southern Acacia-Commiphora bushlands ecoregion each year (Campbell & Borner 1995, WCMC 2001), according to the World Wildlife Fund. This vast ecosystem in east-central Africa, spans 12,000 square miles (30,000 square kilometers), according to NASA, giving rise to its name, which is derived from the Maasai language and means "endless plains." This magnificent game park sprawls across 5,700 square miles of northern Tanzania. When American hunter-turned-conservationist Stewart Edward White first set foot in the Serengeti in 1913, he described the journey: "We walked for miles over burnt out country. ...Then I saw the green trees of the river, walked two miles more and found myself in paradise." The Serengeti Plain of Tanzania and Kenya highlights this image of Southeastern Africa. This savanna (grassland with sparse trees) region is renowned for its biological diversity, especially the famous “big five”, which include elephants, lions, leopards, rhinos, and Cape buffalo.

Within the boundaries of the Serengeti, you'll hear thousands of animals: Hyenas cackle as elephants trample well-worn safari roads and hippos splash in watering holes. And at any given time, more than 2,000 lions are poised to pounce on unsuspecting prey, preparing to chase their unlucky target through the seemingly endless waves of golden grass. The scenery rustles with the swift steps of loping giraffes, and tree branches shake with every monkey's movement.

The most magical site you will behold is The Great Migration, the largest mammal migration in the world. “The migrations continue despite a devastating rinderpest outbreak in the late 19th century and indiscriminate hunting by European settlers in the early 20th century. The area represents the last remnant of a large mammal dominated ecosystem which has existed in African at least since the Pleistocene (WCMC 2001).” Anyone who has been to a safari will tell you the greatest wildebeest spectacle is to witness the "Great migration." The great wildebeest migration is one of the natural wonders of Africa. An incredible wildlife phenomenon that is on the top of every wildlife enthusiast’s bucket list. The migration usually arrives in the Masai Mara in late July, and stays until mid-late October. A spectacular site in which “White's paradise is drowned by a sea of animals as more than one million wildebeest, zebras and gazelles traverse the Serengeti in search of greener pastures,” World Wildlife fund. The best times to visit Serengeti National Park are from January to March or from June to October, although you should plan your trip around the movement of The Great Migration.

The Serengeti encompasses Serengeti National Park and a number of protected game reserves and conservation areas maintained by the governments of Tanzania and Kenya. Serengeti National Park, along with several other game reserves in the surrounding region total about 30,000 square kilometers (12,000 square miles). According to World Wildlife Fund, much of the ecoregion’s habitat occurs within protected areas, joined into a continuous habitat block. “The protected areas network includes parts of Serengeti National Park (SNP) and Ngorongoro Conservation Area, both of which have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites and Biosphere Reserves. The magnificent Ngorongoro crater, once a massive volcanoes around 2.5 million years ago collapsed in on itself. The result creating a caldera, a true lost world. Inside the crater you will find an entire ecosystem within the ecosystem. The protected area network is probably large enough to ensure the survival of the habitat and its biodiversity values (WCMC 2001),” World Wildlife Fund. There has been little loss of habitat within the protected areas, except for small areas used for tourist hotels. Protected land comprises 14% of the total land area of Tanzania. This represents the country’s substantial commitment to conservation.

Although, over the past decade, wildlife reserves in Africa have been criticized as being “paper parks”, meaning that they only exist on paper and that the reality on the ground is that poachers have virtual free reign to hunt wildlife and that the parks are under severe pressure from development, logging, mining, mass tourism, and even wars. It is relatively well protected within National Parks and Game Reserves, but populations of back rhinoceros have been extirpated by illegal hunting. These issues have led to growing awareness that what happens around the parks, outside of their boundaries, affects what is inside and has led some administrators to treat local inhabitants as “stakeholders” in the parks’ success rather than adversaries. This is not limited to Africa; similar issues confront the U.S. National Park system and those of other countries, according to NASA.

This area is also of great interest and importance in terms of human evolution. Some of the oldest fossils of early humans are also found in this area. The ecoregion borders the Olduvai Gorge, site of the discovery of the 1.75 million-year-old remains of Australopithecus boisei and Homo habilis by Dr. Louis and Mrs. Mary Leakey (Reader 1998).

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