Stretching over a huge area of more than 14,763 sq km and containing more than 1,500,000 hectares of virgin Savanna, the Serengeti National Park in northern Tanzania is home to the largest lion population in Africa and famous for the largest annual animal migration in the world of over 1.5 million blue wildebeest, also called white-bearded gnu, and 250,000 zebra. along with smaller herds of Gazelle and eland. Established in 1951, it was one of the first sites listed as a World Heritage Site when United Nations delegates met in Stockholm in 1981. With elevations ranging from 3,020 to 6,070 feet (920 to 1,850 m), the buzz of millions of wildebeest vibrating thick in the air, the feeling of constantly being amongst thousands of animals, vistas of honey-lit plains at sunset and the genuine smiles of the Maasai people, the Serengeti National Park is one of the most impressive nature spectacles in the world that creates a warming magical glow inside the visitors.
Serengeti approximates the Maasai word Serengit, which stands for the land of endless plains. However, although the Serengeti National Park is known for its open savannahs and endless grasslands, its ecosystem is much more varied than that. While the northern section of the park is hilly, especially around Lobo, where woodlands are commonly found, the western portion comprises broken savannah areas, dotted with acacias and whistling thorns, where riverine forests are found, supported by the Grumeti River that slices through the landscape.
The geographic diversity of the region, with its extremely varied landscape ranging from savannah to hilly woodlands to open grasslands, is due to the extreme weather conditions that plague the area, particularly the most formidable combination of heat and wind. The southeast portion of the park contains volcanic rock, volcanic ash and the Serengeti volcanic grassland, while a Tropical Grassland Ecozone lies in the eastern portion of the park, which grows on deposits of volcanic ash. The only permanently-flowing river in the Serengeti ecosystem is the Mara River, which flows from the Kenyan highlands to Lake Victoria.
Nevertheless, the Serengeti National Park is divided into three regions. The popular Seronera Valley, comprising the south and central region of the park, which the Maasai called the Serengit, the land of endless plains of classic savannah, the almost treeless grassland, dotted with acacias and filled with wildlife. It has several Kopjes, isolated small mountains of granite with gentle slopes that serve as observation posts for predators. The second region, known as the western corridor, featuring a pair of rivers, Grumeti and Mbalageti, is equipped with big groups of dense riverine forest and some small mountain ranges, stretches to Lake Victoria and serves as the corridor of the great migration from May to July. Apart from that, the Northern Serengeti or the Lobo area, ranging from Seronera in the south to the Mara River on the Kenyan border, dominated by open woodlands and hills, is remote and relatively inaccessible, the least visited section of the park.
The remarkable natural factors like rainfall, temperature, soils and drainage systems in the Serengeti National Park manifest in a wide variety of aquatic and terrestrial habitats. Equipped with the most productive ecosystems on earth, it sustains not just the largest herds of migrating ungulates, but also the greatest concentrations of predators in the world, comprising 4000 lions, 1000 leopards, 225 cheetahs, 3,500 spotted hyenas and also 300 wild dogs, reintroduced to the area in 2012 after disappearing in 1991. The animal kingdom in the park also includes, among others, 15,000 warthogs, 3,000 waterbucks, bat-eared foxes, African wild cats, banded mongoose and baboons.
Apart from the carnivores, the unique ecosystem prevailing in the Serengeti National Park supports around 1.8 million white-bearded gnus, 900,000 Thomson’s gazelles and 300,000 zebras as the dominant herds of migrating ungulates, along with many other herbivores, including 70,000 buffalos, 4,000 giraffes, 2,700 elephants, 500 hippopotamuses, 200 black rhinoceroses and 10 species of antelope. While crocodiles inhabit the marshes near the Mara River, venomous snakes in the park include African pythons, black mamba, black-necked spitting cobras and puff adders. In addition to that, more than 500 species of birds have been recorded to be perennially or seasonally present in the Park, of which five species are endemic to Tanzania. Interestingly, the Park has the highest ostrich population in Tanzania and probably in Africa.
The migration, for which Serengeti is perhaps most famous, Is the world's longest overland migration, comprising a venturous route of around 800 km and coinciding with the greening of nutritious grasses on the short-grass plains during the wet season. During the migration, over a million wildebeest and about 200,000 zebras flow from the northern hills to the southern plains for the short rains every October and November and then move to west and north after the end of the long rains in April, May and June.
The strong instinct of migration compels the animals to move, despite the tedious long track, infested with predators like the lions or the dangerous crocodiles in the river, which they have to cross. During the wet season, from November to May, the herds graze in the southeastern plains within the park and when the drought comes in May, one major group moves west into the park’s woodland savanna and then moves north, towards the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, chomping down the high green grass, quickly followed by the gazelles and zebras, while another group migrates directly northward. However, the migration of the huge herds is not without risk due to the famous Serengeti lion population and other predators. in addition to that, to get to the Maasai Mara, the herds have to cross the Grumeti and Mara Rivers where around 3,000 crocodiles, wait patiently for a kill. The migrating herds return to the park’s southeastern plains in late October or November, at the end of the dry season. It is estimated that during migration, around 250,000 wildebeests and 30,000 zebras die annually from drowning, predation, exhaustion, thirst or disease.