Serengeti National Park
Serengeti, "the Endless Space"
Lions lying low, mane ruffled, play suspended - then silence… the eddies of wind blow away the hoofmarks of wildebeest, gazelle, impalas, zebras… then, another order of mammal altogether arrives. It’s through the ground below your feet that you feel their advance..closer & then at the same time as their smells and noises envelope you…a mix of crushed herbs, of dung and cinnamon…supple but powerful, a trumpeting column, they move across, right in front of you, making tracks under the green contrasting shade of the acacia.
You can’t count…how MANY went past you?? 60, 80, may be many more ... it seems that their regal trek would never stop. This is the elephant - an true, deep emotion.
But the herd moves on and in the evening light, fear, like an electric charge, shivers down the spine: two or three hundred gazelles out on the plains, the males with horns held proud and eyes ever watchful, circle around the herd, trying to scent danger in the wind as the females bound and turn crazily, starting and quivering like grass in the wind…
The lioness bounds after a target, animals scatter anywhere they can – no matter where...then calmer - until the next attempt.
The great migration
The ecosystem of the Serengeti covers approximately 25,000 km ² and the Serengeti National Park is at its heart. Famously, it’s the main area for viewing the annual Great Migration: approximately 3,000,000 large mammals, mostly wildebeest and zebra but also Thomson and Grant gazelles and other large ungulates. The start, the route and timing of the movement of this great herd can differ very much from one year to another.
In the “Green Season” of January to April, the quite heavy but not prolonged storms cause the “short-great plains” to sprout fresh, nutrient-rich cover which is food for the herds. The Serengeti and southern plains of the N.C.A. bring the migration south towards Ndutu and Olduvai areas. Across these newly verdant plains, the Migration rarely stops, the thunderstorms mean new grass and ground water for them and they’re always on the move; criss-crossing the savannah.
In May and June when the soil dries up quickly, wildebeest form huge columns up to 40 km long and return to the "acacia woodlands" of the western and northern Serengeti.
In the dry season of July to October, the Migration, by now more scattered and less dense, but still impressive, finds refuge in the more wooded and succulent grazing areas of North and West Serengeti and some cross over into the Maasai Mara Reserve in Kenya.
The first rains of November then attract them south once again and the amazing cycle - a true wonder of Nature - restarts. The trail south lasts a matter of months or can take just two weeks if the rains are abundant and green the plains enough to satisfy these early herds.
The Serengeti National Park is huge, covering over 14,000 km ². There is a wide variety of topography, very different zones :
In the south, this area is superb from December to May, when it hosts the most impressive massing herds of the Great Migration and the attendant predators that prey on them. Here, we find the low isolated hills or "kopjes" which are large collections of granite blocks which occur in middle of the plains and are the hunting territory of the big cats.
The central zone of Seronera is very rich throughout the year - home to many resident species and it’s easy to spot most species though if the rains are unusually heavy, there are not many large herds. Out into the Western Corridor, the tracks can be difficult to cross in April and May, but patience can be rewarded with exciting game viewing throughout the dry season of July to November, where there are constantly moving large herds and lion and crocodile lurk along the rivers.
In the North, up towards Lobo and the highest altitude of the Park - up to 1,800m - there is generally good game viewing throughout most of the year, especially along the river valleys but during periods of heavy rainfall, between January and May, it can be “quiet.”.
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Ballooning over the Serengeti
The balloon rises above the plains of the Serengeti with views of the Seronera River.
There is a chance of very beautiful sunrise over the savannah - a chance to observe wildlife, slowly from above,at certain times of the year, along the rivers and on nearby plains.
The balloon pilot adjusts the altitude during the flight, climbs for great views over the area and descends to just graze the highest tree branches and spot vulture nests and again down over the hippo pools and onwards to a surprisingly smooth landing not far from the breakfast spot.