Serengeti National Park

The Serengeti National Park is a national park in Tanzania that stretches over 14,763 km2 (5,700 sq mi).[1] It is located in the Mara and Simiyu regions and contains 15,000,000 hectares (37,000,000 acres) of savanna. It is well known for the largest annual migration of over 1.5 million blue wildebeest and 250,000 zebra and for its numerous Nile crocodile and honey badger.[2] The park includes the neighbouring Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and Maasai Mara National Reserve in bordering Kenya.

Serengeti National Park
Swahili: Hifadhi ya Serengeti
Landscape in Serengeti National Park
Coordinates2°20′S 34°34′E
Area14,763 km2 (5,700 sq mi)
Visitors350,000 per year
Governing bodyTanzania National Parks Authority
Criteriavii, x
Designated1981 (5th session)
Reference no.156
State PartyTanzania


The name "Serengeti" is an approximation of the word siringet used by the Maasai people for the area, which means "the place where the land runs on forever".[3]


A part of the Serengeti was designated a game reserve in 1921. In the 1930s, the government of Tanganyika was pressured to establish a system of national parks compliant with the Convention Relative to the Preservation of Fauna and Flora in their Natural State. The area became a national park in 1940 and was granted strict protection in 1948 when the Serengeti National Park Board of Trustees was formed to administer the national park. The movements of the resident Maasai people were restricted, and the park boundaries finalized in 1951.[4] In 1959, an area of 8,300 km2 (3,200 sq mi) was split off in the eastern part of the national park and re-established as Ngorongoro Conservation Area intended to accommodate the traditional land use interests of the Maasai people in a multiple land use area.[5] In 1981, the Serengeti National Park covered 12,950 km2 (5,000 sq mi), which was less than half of the Serengeti.[6]

The Serengeti gained fame after Bernhard Grzimek and his son Michael in the 1950s produced a book and film. Serengeti Shall Not Die, was widely recognized as an important early piece of nature conservation documentary.[7]


Carbonatite lava at Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano

The Basement complex consists of Archaen Nyanzian System greenstones (2.81–2.63 Ga in age), Archaean granite-gneiss plutons (2.72–2.56 Ga in age), which were uplifted 180 Ma ago) forming koppies and elongated hills, the Neoproterozoic Mozambique Belt consisting of quartzite and granite, and the Neoproterozoic Ikorongo Group, consisting of sandstone, shale and siltstone that form linear ridges. The southeast portion of the park contains Neogene-aged volcanic rock and Oldoinyo Lengai Holocene-aged volcanic ash. The Grometi, Mara, Mbalageti, and Orangi rivers flow westward to Lake Victoria, while the Oldupai River flows eastward into the Olbalbal Swamps.[8]

On the eastern portion of the Serengeti National Park lies the Serengeti volcanic grasslands which is a Tropical Grassland Ecozone. The grasslands grow on deposits of volcanic ash from the Kerimasi Volcano, which erupted 150,000 years ago, and also from the Ol Doinyo Lengai volcanic eruptions, which created layers of calcareous tuff and calcitic hard-pan soil (vertisols) from rapid weathering of the Natrocarbonatite lava produced by the volcanoes.[9][10][11]


The park covers 14,750 km2 (5,700 sq mi)[2] of grassland plains, savanna, riverine forest, and woodlands. The park lies in northwestern Tanzania, bordered to the north by the Kenyan border, where it is continuous with the Maasai Mara National Reserve. To the southeast of the park is the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, to the southwest lies Maswa Game Reserve, to the west are the Ikorongo and Grumeti Game Reserves, and to the northeast and east lies the Loliondo Game Control Area. Together, these areas form the larger Serengeti ecosystem. The Serengeti Plain is extremely varied, ranging from savannah to hilly woodlands to open grasslands. The region's geographic diversity is due to the extreme weather conditions that plague the area, particularly the potent combination of heat and wind. Many environmental scientists claim that the diverse habitats in the region originated from a series of volcanoes, whose activity shaped the basic geographic features of the plain and added mountains and craters to the landscape.

Serengeti Plains

The park is usually described as divided into three regions:

  • Serengeti plains: the almost treeless grassland of the south is the most emblematic scenery of the park. Kopjes are granite formations that are very common in the region, and they are great observation posts for predators. In the Serengeti National Park lies the Serengeti volcanic grasslands. The Volcanic Grasslands is a edaphic plant community that grows on soils derived from volcanic ash from nearby volcanos. This plain zone is also famous for granite outcroppings called kopjes that interrupt the plains and play host to separate ecosystems found in the grasses below.
  • Western corridor: The main geographic feature is the pair of rivers, Grumeti and Mbalageti. There are big groups of riverine forest and some small mountain ranges. The migration passes through from May to July, also the most popular for visitors. It stretches to Lake Victoria. The area is flatter than the northern parts of the park and more densely covered with plants than the southern plains.Northern Serengeti: the landscape is dominated by open woodlands, predominantly Commiphora and hills, ranging from Seronera in the south to the Mara River on the Kenyan border. It is remote and relatively inaccessible. This plain zone is also famous for granite outcroppings called kopjes that interrupt the plains and play host to separate ecosystems found in the grasses below.
Wildebeest in the Western Corridor

Human habitation is forbidden in the park except for the staff of the Tanzania National Parks Authority, researchers and staff of the Frankfurt Zoological Society, and staff of the various lodges, campsites and hotels. The main settlement is Seronera, which houses the majority of research staff and the park's main headquarters, including its primary airstrip.

The Mara River, which flows through Maasai Mara National Reserve from the Kenyan highlands to Lake Victoria, is the only permanently-flowing river in the Serengeti ecosystem.[12]


A group of lions in a tree on the Serengeti prairies
A leopard and her cub in the Serengeti Plains
An impala in the park

Wildlife species in Serengeti National Park include lions. The Serengeti is thought to hold the largest lion population in Africa due in part to the abundance of prey species. More than 3,000 lions live in this ecosystem.[13] Since 2005, the protected area is considered a Lion Conservation Unit together with Maasai Mara National Reserve and a lion stronghold in East Africa.[14][15]

The population density of the African leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) in Serengeti National Park is estimated at 5.41 individuals per 100 km2 (39 sq mi) in the dry season and 5.72 individuals per 100 km2 (39 sq mi) in the wet season.[16]

The African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana) herds recovered from a population low in the 1980s caused by poaching, and numbered over 5,000 individuals by 2014.[17]

The African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) population declined between 1976 and 1996 due to poaching, but increased to 28,524 individuals by 2008.[18]

The black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) population in Serengeti National Park was reduced to about 10 individuals in the 1980s due to poaching. Less than 50 individuals survive today, mainly in areas that are less likely to be affected by wildfires. It browses foremost on grasses, woody Indigofera, Acacia and Crotalaria forbs and shrubs.[19]

The White stork has a population from Europe that has a major wintering ground in Serengeti.[20]

Carnivores include the cheetah,[21] which is widely seen due to the abundance of gazelle, about 3,500 spotted hyena,[21] two species of jackal, African golden wolf, honey badger, striped hyena, caracal, serval, seven species of mongooses, two species of otters and the East African wild dog was reintroduced in 2012 after disappearing in 1991.[22] Primates such as yellow and olive baboons, patas monkeys, and vervet monkey, black-and-white colobus are also seen in the gallery forests of the Grumeti River.[15]

Other mammals include aardvark, aardwolf, african wildcat, african civet, common genet, zorilla, african striped weasel, bat-eared fox, ground pangolin, crested porcupine, three species of hyraxes and cape hare.[15]

More than 500 bird species include[23] Masai ostrich, secretarybird, kori bustards, helmeted guineafowls, Grey-breasted spurfowl, blacksmith lapwing, african collared dove, red-billed buffalo weaver, southern ground hornbill, crowned cranes, sacred ibis, cattle egrets, black herons, knob-billed ducks, saddle-billed storks, goliath herons, marabou storks, yellow-billed stork, spotted thick-knees, white stork, lesser flamingo, shoebills, abdim's stork, hamerkops, hadada ibis, african fish eagles, pink-backed pelicans, tanzanian red-billed hornbill, martial eagles, egyptian geese, lovebirds, spur-winged geese, oxpeckers, and many species of vultures.[24]

There are 34 raptor species and six species of vulture.[20]

Reptiles in the Serengeti National Park include Nile crocodile, leopard tortoise, serrated hinged terrapin, rainbow agama, Nile monitor, chameleon, African python, black mamba,[23] black-necked spitting cobra, and puff adder.

Great migration

Wildebeest swimming across Mara River
Wildebeest escaping a Nile crocodile while passing the Grumeti River

The great migration is an iconic feature of the park. It is also the world's longest overland migration.[25] Roughly 1.5 million wildebeest migrate north from the south all the way through the park north into Maasai Mara. Half a million wildebeests are born from January to March (calving season), making sure the herd survives to the next year. Attacks by the largest lion population in Africa are common this time. In March, the herds leave the southern plains and start the migration. Common eland, plains zebra, and Thomson's gazelle will also join them on the way.[25] In April and May, they will pass the Western Corridor. When the dry season comes, the herd moves north to the Maasai Mara, lush green grass. They will have to pass the Grumeti and Mara rivers, though and 3,000 crocodiles that wait and suddenly lunge at them. For every one wildebeest captured by the crocodiles, 50 drown. [25] When the dry season comes to an end in late October, they will head back down south to where they started their journey a year earlier. The full trip is 800 km (500 mi). Annually, around 250,000 wildebeest and 30,000 plains zebras die usually due to predation, exhaustion, thirst, or disease.[25] Serengeti's large predators contribute a third of all deaths on the migration, contrary to popular belief.

Thousands of years of this migratory coexistence have caused behaviours such as the gazelles hiding their young until they can flee attacks.[20]

Administration and protection

Because of its biodiversity and ecological significance, the park has been listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as a World Heritage Site. As a national park, it is designated as a Category II protected area under the system developed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which means that it should be managed, through either a legal instrument or another effective means, to protect the ecosystem or ecological processes as a whole.[26]

Tanzania National Parks Authority is the administrative body for all parks in Tanzania. Myles Turner was one of the park's first game wardens and is credited with bringing its rampant poaching under control.[27] His autobiography, My Serengeti Years: The Memoirs of an African Game Warden, provides a detailed history of the park's early years.

Siam weed, a introduced invasive species


Massive amounts of deforestation in the Mau Forest region has changed the hydrology of the Mara River where its source is. The river dried up for the first time in the 2010s.[28] There are invasive species of plants such as Siam weed, Prickly pear, Feverfew, Mexican sunflower.[29] The western side of the park is growing at four percent in human population each year. The livestock numbers are growing as well while the area is getting turned into land for farming and demand for land rises. It is estimated 200,000 animals are killed by poaching every year.[20]

Proposed road across the northern Serengeti

A unpaved road in Serengeti

In July 2010, President Jakaya Kikwete renewed his support for an upgraded road through the northern portion of the park to link Mto wa Mbu, southeast of Ngorongoro Crater, and Musoma on Lake Victoria. He promised to build the road in 2010 on his campaign in search of rural votes. While he said that the road would lead to much-needed development in poor communities, others, including conservation groups and foreign governments like Kenya, argued that the road could irreparably damage the great migration and the park's ecosystem. It could also bring poachers to the park. Fences would probably be on the road, making it impenetrable.[28][30][31][32]

The African Network for Animal Welfare sued the Tanzanian government in December 2010 at the East African Court of Justice in Arusha to prevent the road project. The court ruled in June 2014 that the plan to build the road was unlawful because it would infringe the East African Community Treaty under which member countries must respect protocols on conservation, protection, and management of natural resources. The court, therefore, restrained the government from going ahead with the project.[33]


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