What to See: Wildebeest Migration, The Big Five: Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Rhino, Buffallo, Wildebeest
The Serengeti takes its name from the Maasai word siringet, which means “endless plains.” The plains certainly are that, and the park itself is endless, covering 5,700 square miles (14,763 sq km) of dry rolling grassland, acacia speckled savanna, and dense riverine woodland.
In the south one finds short and long grass plains, desiccated much of the year, brought briefly back to vibrancy by the short rains of November and December. It is no coincidence that the wildebeest calving season occurs in the months that follow; the entire Serengeti ecosystem follows the rhythm of the pattering rains, great herds of grazers following the rainfall and briefly rich forage. The Serengeti supports millions of hoofed animals – wildebeest, zebras, giraffes, Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles – and the predators that harass them. This ecosystem extends beyond the boundaries of the park, some of it protected within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area on the park’s eastern border and a knuckle of it within the Maasai Mara Reserve across Tanzania’s northern national border with Kenya.
While the bulk of the park consists of grassland, the western reaches, near Lake Victoria, feature wooded highlands, and woodlands line the tributaries of the Mara and Grumeti rivers.
One of the most important things that we try to communicate with people who get in touch with us for Tanzanian safaris addresses something that both the experienced and fresh traveller are sometimes wary of - places that receive as much marketing as the Serengeti has often don't live up to their resulting hype and in this case, there is nothing to worry about. The Serengeti delivers reliably and without compromise - it has an incredibly high predator density, millions upon millions of other animals dotted about the varied habitats it encompasses...and the unshakable aura of minuscularity when you stand on those huge, huge plains is a memory you'll never, never lose.
The area over which the formal boundaries of the Serengeti lie is surprisingly varied - whilst the majority of the park, particularly the southern part, is covered in the wide savannahs of so much acclaim, to the north a series of hills has allowed for some woodland to take hold and the western regions demonstrate a broken mixture of acacia, riverine forest and interspersed grasslands. The result of this is an exceptionally good birding environment; to date there are about 540 species identified in the Serengeti, with a spattering of several endemic species for the discerning bird-watcher! We tailor-make specialist safaris for clients who wish to focus on the photography or birding element of African trips, and it's worth getting in touch with your questions - our experienced and knowledgeable team will get back quickly with recommendations. Something that birders might want to look at immediately is Lake Manyara - a great little park with huge bird diversity and tree-climbing lions. The Masai Mara is also well-known for avian variety, and is conveniently linked with the Serengeti. Those looking for the more unusual might want to look at the endemic species on Príncipe, or Nchila Reserve which gives easier access to some of the Congo's rare birds.
The wildebeest migration that hits the southern Serengeti during December-March (typically; there's slight variation according to local conditions!) is an unmissable sight, where up to two million animals cross East Africa in search of food, water and birthing grounds. As one of the biggest mass migrations on the planet, and certainly one of the most dramatic, there is naturally great demand in booking accommodation...we typically use smaller, private camps that offer greater exclusivity and have the mobility to escape the big groups of tourists and follow the herds after the small fluctuations that inevitably occur during their long journey. If you'd like to read up more on the migration, we suggest you go to our dedicated Wildebeest Migration page that focuses on the event specifically.
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