Serengeti National Park
Serengeti: the endless space
Lions lying low, mane ruffled, play suspended, the silence… the gusts of wind blow away the hoofmarks of wildebeests, gazelles, impalas, zebras. Something bigger is coming. It’s through the ground below your feet that you feel their advance as their smell swirls around you, a mix of crushed herbs, of dung and cinnamon… Supple but powerful, a trumpeting column, they move across, right in front of you, digging wide trenches in the deep, green vegetation.
You can’t count…how many animals can you see around you? 60, 80, maybe more ... It seems like their royal trek would never stop. This is the elephant, you feel a true, deep emotion.
But the herd moves on and in the evening light, fear, like an electric charge, shivers in the air. Two or three hundred gazelles stand 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 leaps after a target, animals scatter anywhere they can, no matter where. Then comes the silence again. At least 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 zebras but also Thomson and Grant gazelles and other large ungulates. The beginning, the route and timing of the movement of this great herd can differ very much from one year to another.
In the “Green Season” from 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, wildebeests form huge columns up to 40 km long return to the acacia woodlands of the western and northern Serengeti.
In the dry season from July to October, the Migration, by now more scattered, but still impressive, finds refuge in the more wooded and succulent grazing areas of North and West Serengeti and some cross over into the Maasaï Mara reserve in Kenya.
The first rains of November then attract them south once again and the amazing cycle, true wonder of Nature, restarts. The trail south lasts a matter of months or 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. This area exhibits a wide variety of topography:
In the South, this zone 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 exist in the middle of the plains and are the hunting territory of the big cats.
The central zone of Seronera is very rich throughout the year. It is the home of many resident species and it’s easy to spot most species. However 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 from July to November, where there are constantly moving large herds and lions and crocodiles lurk along the rivers.
In the North, up towards Lobo and the highest altitude of the Park up to 1,800 m, 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 pretty 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.