The name “Serengeti” origin comes from Maasai words Siringeti, which means “Endless plains”. With an area of 14750 square kilometers, the Serengeti National Park is renowned for its wealth of lion, leopard and rhinos and many more. This makes it to be seen as the world’s greatest wildlife sanctuary.
Serengeti National Park is the largest reserve in Tanzania after the Selous game reserve in the southern part of Tanzania. It is a continuation of the smaller Maasai Mara in the North of Kenya. Serengeti national park is boarded with highlands plateau of the Ngorongoro in the South, Lake Victoria in the West in form of a corridor, and to the North with Maasai Mara. The altitude varies between 1000 and 1900 metres above sea level.
Serengeti National Park has avariety of environments from wide grass plains to the south, Acacia savanna in central region, densely wooded hilltop the north and to the vast woodland area with mountains overlooking the plains to the western corridor. It is also characterized with the famous kopjes that give a feeling of infinite variety and incomparable wildness.
According to the season, the Serengeti National Park changes from a rich fertile land to desolate wilderness, causing the spectacular migration of the wildebeest. The best season for visiting this park is from May to July and from December to February. It can be reached by road from Arusha via Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and by charter or scheduled flight every day from Arusha or Kilimanjaro airport.
Facilities include campsite, tented camp, lodges inside and outside the park. Animals that can be seen there include wildebeests, lions, leopards, cheetahs, zebras, gazelles, giraffes, jackals, elephants, wild dogs, buffaloes and many more. The so called incredible wildebeest migration is the great phenomenon, contributing a lot to the reputation of Serengeti and its ecosystem.
Great Wildebeest Migration
The Serengeti is a setting for so many wildlife documentaries with good reason. Visitors are virtually guaranteed to see an impressive array of wildlife. The Serengeti boasts a staggering 8,500 giraffe, 10,000 eland, 200,000 zebra, 1.3 million wildebeest, 1,500 lions, 1,000 elephants, 280,000 Thompson’s gazelles, 25,000 buffalo, 500 species of birds, 72,000 Topi, and 32,000 Grant’s gazelle. The annual wildebeest migration is one of the most spectacular and breathtaking events in the world. From the Serengeti to Kenya’s Masai Mara, over 1.4 million wildebeest and 200,000 zebra and gazelle, relentlessly tracked by Africa’s great predators, migrate in a clockwise fashion over 1,800 miles each year in search of rain ripened grass. This mass of moving animals is so large that even when it is in Kenya’s Masai Mara, parts of it are still in the Serengeti.
Note that even during August to November, the approximate time when most of the wildebeest are expected to be in the Masai Mara, the wildlife is still plentiful in the Serengeti, as the ‘resident’ animals opt to stay where they are instead of follow the migration.
Location: Northern circuit, 7 hours outside Arusha, 2.5 hours from the Ngorongoro Crater
Things 2 Do: Game-drives, Nature Walks and Night Game Drives at Ikoma, Hot Air Balloon
Time: The average stay is 3-4 nights with 2 nights as a recommended minimum
Animals: Virtually all safari animals except for the Rhino
A million wildebeests… each one driven by the same ancient rhythm, fulfilling its instinctive role in the inescapable cycle of life: a frenzied three-week bout of territorial conquests and mating; survival of the fittest as 40 km long columns plunge through crocodile-infested waters on the annual exodus north. This trek replenishes the species in a brief population explosion that produces more than 8,000 calves daily before the 1,000 km pilgrimage begins again.
Size: 14,763 sq km
Location: 335 km from Arusha, stretching north to Kenya and bordering Lake Victoria to the west.
Getting there: Scheduled and charter flights from Arusha, Lake Manyara and Mwanza. Drive from Arusha, Lake Manyara, Tarangire or Ngorongoro Crater.
What to do: Hot air balloon safaris, Maasai rock paintings and musical rocks. Visit neighboring Ngorongoro Crater, Olduvai Gorge, Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano and Lake Natron’s flamingos.
When to go:
To follow the wildebeest migration: December-July
To see predators: June-October.
Accommodation: Four lodges, four luxury tented camps and campsites scattered through the park; one luxury camp, a lodge and two tented camps just outside.
Like an unbroken thread, the annual migration of the wildebeest and zebra binds the Serengeti’s eco-system much as it has done for the past two million years. This migration is triggered by the rains. This annual pilgrimage involves some 1.5 million animals that must search for the grass and water they need to survive. During this spectacle the migration will cover some 3200 km (2,000 miles) and devour 4,000 tonnes of grass a day. A quarter of a million animals will be born. Lions and other predators follow the migration picking off the weaker members and the calves. At the Grumeti River, where the migration crosses the western corridor of the Serengeti, crocodiles lurk awaiting their annual feast. Other predators that lurk in the shadows prefer smaller game to wildebeest and zebra. Leopards often found in trees along the Seronera River, may haul as many as four or five Grant’s or Thompson gazelles into their leafy larders. There they are safe from the unwelcome attention of lions and hyenas. It is the most visited park in Tanzania, famous for massive migration of ungulates.
Grassland plains, savanna, riverine forest, woodland
Wildebeest, zebra, lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo, cheetah, gazelle, giraffe, spotted hyena, jackal, aardwolf, serval, agama lizard, rock hyrax, secretary bird, ostrich, black eagle and more than 500 bird species.
Serengeti National Park quite simply offers the finest game viewing anywhere in Africa. Unrivaled concentrations of wildlife, stunningly beautiful landscapes and vast pristine areas make Serengeti National Park our pick for the best national park in the whole of Africa. With so much hype and praise surrounding the Serengeti, you might expect to be disappointed upon finally visiting this famous park. However, it really is this good and you will undoubtedly fall in love with this last great wilderness (we certainly did). Even in the dry season (July-October) when the great herds have retreated into the woodlands from the plains, game viewing in the Serengeti National Park still rivals that of any other park in Africa.
The Serengeti National Park is a massive park encompassing 5,700 square miles, and as one of our customers best said it, ‘even during the high season there are only a few hundred vehicles roaming around an area the size of Connecticut. The greater Serengeti ecosystem encompasses 10,395 square miles (the size of Massachusetts) and includes many other game reserves and conservation areas including the Ngorongoro, Masai Mara, Loliondo, Masawa, Grumeti, and Ikorongo reserves. This is a more relevant figure as there are no fences and many of the animals freely migrate in and out of the official park borders. Additionally, many of our safari itineraries include some time in these adjacent game reserves and conservation areas as game viewing can be just as rewarding during certain times of year. The Serengeti National Park is about 90 miles wide (west to east) and about 120 miles long (north to south). The surrounding Serengeti National Park ecosystem is roughly double this size.
The Serengeti National Park ecosystem supports not only the largest herds of migrating ungulates but also the highest concentrations of large predators in the world. At a quick glance, the numbers are astonishing. Estimates put the wildebeest about 1.7 million, zebras at 250,000 and Thomson’s gazelles at about 440,000. Hyenas are the most numerous of the large carnivores at about 9,000, lions at 2,800 and leopards at about 1,000. In general, cheetahs live at much lower densities than other large predators. However, the Serengeti boasts the highest density of cheetah in Africa (at certain times of year) with up to 40 animals per 60 square miles found on short grass plains during the wet season.
The Serengeti National Park is the most famous national park in Africa and is the best place for wildlife viewing for a variety of reasons. First of all, the variety and abundance of animals you will likely encounter exploring the Serengeti is far greater than any other park in Africa. Within a couple of well-planned days (adjusted for seasonal wildlife movements), you will likely encounter representatives of just about every large- and medium-sized animal in East Africa. Every day, every game drive and every horizon brings new, exciting and unexpected wildlife encounters.
Second, the Serengeti National Park offers exceptional year round game viewing. Though much of the wildlife in the Serengeti is migratory, abundant wildlife concentrations can be found throughout the year by basing yourself in the appropriate areas depending on your specific month of travel. Additionally, resident animals are plentiful. Regardless of when you travel, both resident and migratory animals can be found due to the size and nature of the Serengeti.
Third, the Serengeti encompasses a massive and pristine wilderness area. Thousands of square miles filled with plentiful wildlife beckon your exploration. Because of its large size, the Serengeti has retained a raw and wild feel that many of the other parks in Africa have lost. There are a few areas of the Serengeti, including the Seronera Valley that may feel congested during peak travel months. Once outside these tourist areas and off the main arteries, you will likely encounter very few other visitors. The unpredictability of such a large area filled with so many large carnivores and herbivores makes for an adventure of the grandest proportion.
Fourth, the Serengeti ecosystem encompasses a variety of habitats providing for a diverse and well-rounded safari. There are short grass plains, long grass savannas, riverine areas, open woodlands, thick bush, wetlands, mountains, and lakes. The south and east are home to the famous Serengeti plains where over two million animals congregate in the wet season. The central areas are home to the Serengeti’s famous lion prides and resident leopards. The remote western and northern corridors are home to the woodlands and offer wild and off the beaten path game viewing.
Lastly, the Serengeti rests on a huge plateau situated at an altitude ranging from 6,000 feet in the east to 4,000 feet in the west. This means that the strong equatorial sun is tempered and conditions are ideal for comfortable game viewing. The weather is generally pleasant and temperatures rarely exceed 85 degrees. This is in stark contrast to the many hot and humid areas found in low-lying areas throughout Africa.
Serengeti Wildlife Census
The Serengeti ecosystem contains the greatest remaining concentration of plains animals in the world. The below data is based upon the latest census data available, which was conducted from 1989 to 1991. The counts are for the entire Serengeti Ecosystem including adjacent game reserves.
Large and Medium Size Animals in the Serengeti Ecosystem:
Thomson’s gazelle: 440,845
Grant’s gazelle: 31,276
Elephant: 2,000 – 4,000
Black Rhinoceros: 12
Wild Dog: Rare (1-2 transient packs)
Black Back Jackal: 6,300
Mongoose (all species): 130,000
The northern region of the Serengeti is a vast pristine area of wooded rolling hills interspersed with open grassy patches and large granite outcrops. This region extends north about 55 miles from Seronera in the central Serengeti to the Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya. Most visitors to the Serengeti never see the northern region. It is only rarely visited and remains an unexplored and untouched wilderness, packed with stunning landscapes and abundant wildlife.
We find it ironic that the most popular game viewing regions in East Africa are the central Serengeti in Tanzania and the Masai Mara reserve in Kenya. Thousands of visitors a year flock to these two great areas which belong to the same ecosystem. Located right in between these two areas is the northern Serengeti, which receives very few visitors. Wildlife concentrations are a little lower in the northern Serengeti and the thick woodlands do make game harder to see but this is more than compensated by the beautiful landscapes and the fact you will have the majority of wildlife sightings all to yourself.
The northern Serengeti supports a good number of resident herbivores including hippo, giraffe, eland, topi, impala, and Thomson’s gazelle. This area is home to the largest remaining concentrations of elephants in the Serengeti. These graceful giants were poached heavily in the 1980s and less than a hundred remained by 1987 in the northern Serengeti. With the world ban on the ivory trade imposed in 1989, poaching came to an abrupt halt. Since the ivory ban was enacted, elephant numbers have been slowly rising in the northern Serengeti through immigration from the Mara, natural recruitment and from expansion of agricultural communities outside the park forcing those animals inside the Serengeti. The great buffalo herds of the north faced a similar fate but they are returning too and a few large herds are usually sighted around Lobo in the northern Serengeti.
Predators are also abundant in the northern Serengeti, though not to the extent seen in the Central Serengeti. The thick bush and woodlands of the northern Serengeti do make it more difficult to spot predators. However, lions and hyenas are regularly seen. Cheetahs are distributed fairly thinly in the northern woodlands but they are commonly seen since they are active during the day. Leopards are spread fairly constant throughout the woodlands but they are more elusive here in the northern Serengeti.
The northern woodlands of the Serengeti ecosystem are home to the enormous migratory herds of wildebeest and zebra during the dry season. However, the great herds usually reside in the extreme north of the park spilling over into the Masai Mara during the height of the dry season. The smaller wildebeest herds can usually be accessed with game drives to the extreme north. The zebra herds are more dispersed and are more easily seen. Game viewing is at its best in the northern Serengeti when the great herds are migrating through the area to and from the Masai Mara and the extreme northern Serengeti. The northern migration usually makes its way through the northern Serengeti in late July and early August, and appearing on the Mara watershed in Kenya in early August. The southern migration through the northern region usually takes place in mid- to late-October. However, the exact timing of these events fluctuates from year to year and is entirely dependent upon current rainfall patterns.
The spectacular Lobo River Valley simply offers the finest wildlife viewing in the Northern Serengeti. Wildlife viewing at Lobo is at its bet during the late dry season from mid July to late November, which peaks at the end of the dry season from about mid September to late November when animal concentrations are at their highest. At the end of the dry season Lobo offers perhaps the best wildlife viewing in the whole East Africa, as the migratory herds tend to pass through or stagnate in the Lobo Valley during their southward migration. Additionally, during the dry season many of the resident animals tend to congregate around the permanent sources of water in the valley, resulting in excellent game viewing in both resident and migratory animals.
Stewart White was one of the first explorers to discover the Lobo River Valley. In 1913, Stewart wrote: ‘Never have I seen anything like that game. It covered every hill, standing in the openings, strolling in and out among groves, feeding on the bottom lands, single, or in little groups. It did not matter in what direction I looked, there it was; as abundant one place as another.’
Lobo Valley (along with Seronera Valley) is one of the few places in East Africa where there is a realistic chance of seeing all three species of big cats (lion, leopard and cheetah) on a single game drive. The resident lion pride, called the ‘Lobo Pride,’ is the second largest pride in the Serengeti and consists of approximately 26 individuals. This extended family of lions is commonly seen catnapping on the smooth granite kopjes during the heat of the day, sprawled out in proper lion style. These lions thrive on the abundance of resident prey animals that reside in this area throughout the year including buffalo and gazelle.
During the dry season when the great migration is thundering through, the hungry pride stalks the migratory wildebeest and zebra, allowing the resident herbivores some relief from predation. Leopards are commonly seen slinking in the shadowy branches of the yellow barked acacia trees that line the rivers and springs in Lobo Valley. One of the best spots to see leopards in this valley is near Lobo Springs.
Cheetahs, though thinly distributed in the woodlands of the Northern Extension, are also regularly seen grazing the tawny grasslands of Lobo Valley during the dry season due to the presence of Thomson’s gazelle- their primary prey. The majority of cheetahs in Lobo are thought to be migrants from other more touristy parts of the Serengeti (as evident by their habituated behavior) and feed on the migratory Thomson’s gazelle population throughout the dry season. During the green season, the cheetahs follow the migrating gazelles south and east. Conversely, the lions and leopards of Lobo make this area their home year-round, and since they do not migrate with the herds, these cats must survive on the resident game alone.
Lobo Valley is a remarkable place of great beauty and solitude, a scenic delight in the remote savanna of the Northern Serengeti. During its prime in the dry season, when animal action is most dramatic, Lobo Valley is certainly one of the wonders of the Serengeti. The landscape is a mosaic of colorful patterns – a pristine valley scattered with woodlands, open plains, ranges of hills and studded with spectacular granite kopjes. This area is composed of some the world’s most ancient rock formations estimated at 2 – 3 million years old.
There are several sources of permanent water that sustain life into the valley year round, including the Gaboti River, Bololgedi River and Lobo Springs. The dominant feature in the valley is the Lobo Hill which flanks the eastern side of the valley. The permanent water sources, along with the varied forage, allow for an abundant and diverse population of resident herbivores. Old buffalo bulls and bachelor herds of male buffalo are commonly seen in the vicinity of Lobo Lodge at the heart of the valley. The larger female herds of buffalo are seldom seen in the valley as they range farther to the north in the denser woodlands probably due to the large lion population in Lobo.
The surefooted Klipspringer can be found on top of the granite kopjes that dot the valley. These thick-set, rough-coated antelopes are adapted for gracefully leaping from rock to rock. Klipspringers are monogamous, that is, mate for life and are mostly seen in pairs. Other resident animals commonly found in the Lobo Valley include elephant, impala, warthog, giraffe, topi, hartebeest, baboon, vervet monkey, dik dik and rock hyrax. There are two nearby lodges (Migration Camp and Lobo Lodge) so the valley never feels very crowded, which allows for relatively undisturbed game viewing and golden solitude.
The legendary wildebeest migration thunders through Lobo twice a year including July and August (during the northward migration) and September through November (during the southward migration.) The southward wildebeest migration is much more pronounced then the northward migration at Lobo since the animals seem to linger in the valley for longer periods of time on their southern journey. Throughout the dry season one can usually see a few scattered herds of migratory wildebeest even when the main masses have moved on. The migratory zebra herds are more easily seen grazing in the Lobo area during the dry season as they tend to linger long in the valley, seemingly captivated by its beauty.
One of the more interesting sightings we have had in Lobo was coming across a lion, leopard, impala kill and several baboons all in one large green thorn acacia tree (see pictures in slideshow) located approximately 1 mile south from Lobo Lodge. Apparently, a female leopard had killed an impala and dragged the carcass to a branch halfway up the tree. A troop of baboons must have forced the leopard off the kill to scavenge (baboons are mainly herbivores but do eat meat on occasion). An opportunistic female lion had come across the situation and the ‘king of scavengers’ attempted to climb the tree. An awkward standoff ensued with the lion unable to climb past the first branch, the baboons unable to descend from their mid level perches, while the leopard sought the highest refuge at the very top of the tree.
Lobo Valley is also home to the largest remaining concentration of elephants in the Serengeti. In a 1992 census, approximately 38% of the elephants counted in the Serengeti ecosystem were located in and around the Lobo Valley. This same study in 1992 noted a general migration pattern in that elephants moved into Lobo during the green season and dispersed during the dry season, which is opposite to that of the wildebeest and zebra migration. There are two populations of Serengeti elephants including a northern one (North Serengeti, West Serengeti and Masai Mara) and a southern one (Kusini, Ndutu, Masawa and Edulen).
These graceful giants were poached heavily in the 1980s. The Serengeti elephant population declined from 2,460 in 1970 to only 467 in 1986. Elephant poaching in the Serengeti slowed considerably in 1987 when legal ivory sales were disallowed in Burundi. Poaching came to an abrupt halt in 1989 when the world ban on ivory trade was imposed. Since the ivory ban was enacted, elephant numbers have been slowly rising in the Serengeti through immigration from the Masai Mara, natural recruitment and from expansion of agricultural communities outside the park forcing those elephants inside the Serengeti. The last census was conducted in 1992 and 1,295 elephants were counted. Today over 2,000 elephants call the Serengeti home! The Serengeti elephants are very well protected now due to a combination of increased anti-poaching patrols and high tourist exposure.
Elephants travel in matriarchal groups led by a succession of mothers and daughters. This closely knit family unit consists of a small number of related cows (i.e. a mother and her daughters) and their dependent young. Each family unit is also part of a larger kinship group of two to four family units. Female elephants form a close bond with their mothers and stay together with them all their lives, while male elephants leave their mothers once they reach adolescence at about 12 years of age. The matriarch and group leader is usually the oldest elephant. She may be fifty years or older and her great memory and experience is the herd’s defense against drought and flood. The matriarch sets the herd’s direction and pace. She knows the ancient migration routes and where go to find forage and water. It is interesting to note that many of today’s roads in East Africa are simply widened and paved elephant trails.
Adult male elephants travel independently from the females and family units. However, male elephants do form temporary groups called bachelor herds. Elephants do not hold fixed territories but range over massive areas. At certain times of year dominant males exhibit a phenomenon known as ‘musth’, which is apparently a highly sexual state. This can be recognized by a secretion of dark liquid from the temporal glad. Male elephants in ‘musth’ are extremely dangerous and will often charge vehicles if they feel threatened.
Myles Turner writes in 1966, “The Northern Extension of the Serengeti was the home of some of the fiercest elephants I have ever encountered. The herds up there wandered back and forth between Kenya’s Masai Mara Game Reserve and the Serengeti. Why they are so evil tempered has never been satisfactorily explained. Whatever the reason, more often than not, they would charge at the slightest excuse, either singly or in a mass attach, screaming and trumpeting, a solid phalanx of living flesh bearing down in a cloud of dust”.
Elephants encountered in several areas including the Northern Serengeti, Western Serengeti and Tarangire are notorious for exhibiting fake or demonstration charges where they rapidly approach the vehicle with ears spread, head held high and are often accompanied by an unfurling of their trunk with a loud trumpeting similar to a party noisemaker. Signs of uncertainty immediately before the charge including displacement activities like exaggerated feeding behavior (breaking off branches, etc.), swinging of the feet or swaying are usually indications for demonstration charge rather than a real charge. However, such mock charges can still be quite dramatic and the first time you witness one, you will undoubtedly remember it!
Upper Grumeti Woodlands
The Grumeti River flows in a westerly movement across the top half of the Serengeti National Park, before emptying into Lake Victoria. The Upper Grumeti refers to the section of the river that cuts across the Northern Serengeti, as opposed to the Lower Grumeti which flows through the Western Serengeti. Two distinct types of woodlands are found in the Upper Grumeti area; a lush gallery forest shades the river banks while acacia woodlands flourish throughout the valleys and hills. Both of these two distinct habitats play host to unique flora and fauna that will be discussed in more detail below.
As mentioned above, a distinctive gallery forest lines the banks of the Grumeti River. This lush habitat includes unique species such as fig, mahogany, date palm, and tamarind trees. Large groups of hippos can be seen bobbing and splashing in the dark river waters. The neighboring forest is also home to playful vervet monkeys and large groups of inquisitive baboons. The occasional colobus monkey has also been noted, although this species of primate is more commonly seen along the Lower Grumeti. The Grumeti River is a seasonal river and only flows during certain times of year, though deep pools of water remain year round supporting the resident hippos and crocodiles. In the treetops of the gallery forest live brightly colored birds of the turaco family, especially Hartlaub’s and Ross’s, which are vivid green and blue with crimson wings. In addition to their distinctive markings, the turaco family is also noted by their harsh call and quirky habits of running and hopping along the branches and trees. Along the riverbank several species of kingfisher are likely to be seen flitting about, showing off their shiny feathers and vibrant colors. Also commonly seen is the majestic fish eagle which resembles a bald eagle, and whose lonely cry will often be heard echoing above the riverine forest.
The surrounding area (approximately 10 miles on either side of the river) is covered in verdant woodlands consisting mainly of acacia tree species such as whistling thorn, paper-bark, green thorn and flood-plain acacia. These acacia woodlands support a myriad of herbivores including elephant, Thomson’s gazelle, topi and buffalo. Of particular interest are the large groups of impala and giraffe that can be seen in this region. Africa’s great predators also lurk in the shadows of these shady woodlands. All three majestic species of big cats are present here including leopard, lion and cheetah. Although common in other areas of the Serengeti, the spotted hyena is relatively rare in these woodlands.
Giraffe in particular seem to dominate Upper Grumeti Woodlands as they feed exclusively on the tender leaves of acacia trees, which happen to flourish here. The species occurring in the Serengeti is the Maasai giraffe. Since giraffe do not compete for food with grazing animals, and barely overlap browsing zones with other browsers because of the height at which they feed, they are able to share their habitat with a wide range of animals. Although normally elegant in stature and graceful in movement, giraffe have difficulty in bringing their heads down to ground level. So, when drinking they have to splay their forelegs out sideways in a rather awkward looking position. A mature male giraffe weighs about 2,200 pounds and stands approximately 11 feet at the shoulders. For all its great length the giraffe’s neck has only seven vertebrae, just like humans. Twiga, as the giraffe is known in Swahili, is the national emblem of Tanzania.
It is interesting to note the various self defense mechanisms exemplified throughout the Upper Grumeti Woodlands. From the tree’s point of view, all vegetarians are enemies that the trees try to repel in order to minimize their own destruction. For example, acacia trees have evolved long prickly thorns to help defend themselves against browsers. Some species of acacia have poisonous sap, which is triggered when the leaves are being consumed. This is evident in watching giraffe as they rarely browse a single acacia tree very long before moving on.
The whistling thorn tree has an ingenious defense against browsers. This scrawny acacia produces hollow back swellings or ‘galls’ at the base of its thorns. They provide ideal apartments for a certain kind of ant, which only has to gnaw entry holes. The name ‘whistling thorn’ comes from the sound made by the wind blowing across the holes. The tree even secretes droplets of sweet fluid for the ants. In return, the ants defend the tree by attacking anything that tries to eat its leaves.
One of the best game drives in the Northern Serengeti is called the Grumeti Game Loop. This is a ‘U’ shaped game loop that diverges from the main road at Lobo and heads northwest to Grumeti River and Migration Tented Lodge. The game loop track then parallels the Grumeti River for several miles before heading back southeast to the main road at Lobo. The game drive takes about 2 hours to complete and can be very rewarding. If staying at Migration Tented Lodge, this game loop also functions as the entrance road so you will undoubtedly game drive this loop on several occasions. Animals regularly encountered on this game loop include giraffe, impala, Thomson’s gazelle and buffalo. Lions are frequently sighted here and also the occasional cheetah. There is a large lion pride that seems to use the road here to hunt and travel. On several occasions we have seen lion kills just feet from the road. During the dry season, a constant stream of migratory wildebeest and zebra can be seen flooding through the woodlands as they continue their epic journey in search of food and water.
The legendary wildebeest migration thunders through the Upper Grumeti River Woodlands twice a year, including July and August (during the northward migration) and September through November (during the southward migration.) The southward wildebeest migration is much more pronounced than the northward migration in this area since the animals seem to linger for longer periods of time on their southern journey. Throughout the dry season one can usually see a few scattered herds of migratory wildebeest even when the main masses have moved on.
The mighty Mara River snakes across the northern tip of the Serengeti National Park on its westward flow into Lake Victoria. The Mara River is most famous for the legendary wildebeest crossing, a dramatic event featured in countless wildlife documentaries. Hippos abound in these dark waters, along with massive Nile crocodiles looming just below the murky surface. Large herds of buffalo graze on the verdant floodplains and groups of giraffe glide through the shady groves of acacia trees. Mile after mile of vast pristine wilderness awaits the more adventurous safari traveler, as this part of the Serengeti is way off the beaten path. We think the Mara River and the bordering Lamai Triangle is a must see if visiting the Serengeti in the late dry season during August, September or October.
One of Tanzania’s best kept secrets is the fact that nearly half of the Mara River is situated in the North Serengeti (30 miles in length) versus the Masai Mara’s segment in Kenya (40 miles in length). While there are hundreds of vehicles just a few miles upriver in the Masai Mara, the Serengeti side of the Mara River is an isolated wilderness virtually devoid of tourists. On the Serengeti side of the Mara River, one is able to witness the same caliber of game viewing without hordes of other vehicles and the resulting solitude sets the stage for a much more intimate and rewarding experience.
An OAS specialty is our ‘Mara River Adventure Drive’ which can be conducted while staying at any of the lodges and camps in the North Serengeti. This game drive is a full day of adventure, including an excursion through Wogakuria and some time spent exploring the Mara River (both on foot and in the vehicle). The ‘Mara River Adventure Drive’ culminates with a game drive in the stunning Lamai Triangle, which is the main dry season range for the great migratory herds during the dry season. This is a spectacular game drive through one of the most remote areas of the Serengeti where few tourists pass.
A special perk for those visiting this area is we are permitted to drive off the road in any direction, allowing one to get especially up close and personal with nature. Walking safaris along the banks of the Mara River are also permitted, granting visitors a unique perspective of the abundant wildlife and captivating scenery that surrounds this remarkable place. For safety and direction, you will be escorted by an armed park ranger and your own OAS guide. As you stroll along the riverbank you will undoubtedly see hundreds of hippos huddled together, spouting and grunting in the shadowy water. If you approach quietly you may spot the massive Nile crocodile, which is the largest species of crocodile in the world.
The Mara River supports a unique canopy forest and the surrounding floodplains sustain an abundance of wildlife. Groups of hippos numbering over 50 individuals are commonly seen in the Mara at the oxbow, which is approximately 1-mile east of the bridge at the Kogatende ranger post. One can walk along the sandbank in front of the oxbow to capture great pictures of the hippos as they submerge, resurface and sometimes battle over this prized territory. The riverbank above the oxbow makes a fantastic spot for a scenic bush lunch.
Large herds of giraffes are commonly seen feeding on the acacia trees that dot the floodplains along the river. Lumbering elephants and graceful elands are also regular visitors to the Mara River. Shimmering bands of resident impala melt in and out of surrounding forest and are abundant here as they are throughout the woodlands of the Serengeti. As mentioned above, the Mara River also contains a healthy population of Nile crocodiles. Although these grinning reptiles are extremely shy, most people are able to glimpse these prehistoric animals basking in the sun on the tops of boulders in the river. They are surprisingly well camouflaged but are more noticeable with careful observation through binoculars. Amazingly, these crocodiles feed only once or twice a year during the wildebeest crossing. It is thought that some of these mottled green giants are over 50 years old!
Birding along the Mara is also very good. Common species to look for include fish eagles, kingfishers, bee-eaters, weavers, and some guests have reported seeing the colorful and rare turaco.
Kay Turner in 1962 wrote: “On safari there were some areas of the Serengeti that gave me greater pleasure than others. One of these lay to the north. Most of the camp there overlooked the swirling brown waters of the Mara River, in a grove of shady trees a mile from the Kogatende ranger post. Heaving and splashing whenever they surfaced, the hippos honked and roared below us, slapping the water with their tails to scatter their dung. With forests, hills, rivers and open glades the Mara was idyllic and harbored a great variety of animals, especially buffaloes in large herds. Most of the dwindling numbers of rhinos in the Serengeti were to be found here, and it was a favorite haunt for the migration, too, during the long dry months when they withdrew from the plains…once we saw an elephant gliding down to drink in the moonlight, making no sounds as he stretched his trunk across the water, then raised it to his mouth. His movements were almost dreamlike as he drank, the soft light glinting along his tusks, until at last his thirst was sated and he melted again into the shadows as silently as he had come.’
During the dry season, massive herds of wildebeest and zebra are thundering across the river. The ultimate destination for the migratory herds is the Lamai Triangle, which is a triangular shaped watershed area just north of the Mara River. The river forms the bottom of the Lamai Triangle, providing a critical refuge for the migration during the long dry season. Depending upon the length of the preceding green season, the great migration usually begins arriving at the Mara River in early August. The herds then cross and re-cross the river in a restless ebb and flow, pursuing the scattered thundershowers during August and September. The onset of more widespread downpours usually commence sometime in October. These cloudbursts initiate the southward migration as the wildebeest lift their heads toward the rain washed skies and embark on their long journey to the southern plains. The southward migration is an extraordinary event as mile after mile of wildebeest march southwards in single file fashion, marking another season in their unending pilgrimage in search of food and water.
Myles Turner wrote in 1966: “When the wildebeest move on across the Mara River into the Lamai country, spectacular deaths occur at the river crossings. The herds build up on the banks in huge numbers while dust clouds churned up by their constant movement swirl overhead and vultures gather in ominous clusters in nearby trees. As more animals continue to arrive, those at the front begin to fling themselves from the steep banks and plunge into the river. More follow, until the movement becomes a wild stampede with hundreds of wildebeest struggling to swim across. Inevitably, casualties are high. Some animals become stuck in the mud. Others are crushed by wildebeest jumping off the steep banks on to those already in the water. Sometimes it is as if they are intent on committing mass suicide. At one crossing place I counted more than 500 bodies floating in the Mara River with several huge crocodiles enjoying the feast.’
Predators such as lion and leopard are abundant in the Mara area but are difficult to see compared with other areas of the North Serengeti. As this area receives only a trickle of visitors, both lion and leopard tend to be shy and secretive, and will often seek cover upon hearing an approaching vehicle. One typically finds numerous bones in the North Serengeti and it is not unusual to come across whole skeletons. In areas where there are many hyenas, such as in the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti Plains, one rarely finds a single bone. It is thought that hyenas thrive in more open areas and do not do well in the woodlands.
Hans Kruuk, who undertook the most extensive study of the Serengeti Hyenas, writes: “One rarely sees many hyenas in the northern extension of the Serengeti. This lack of hyenas is especially striking in the most northern area around the Mara River. Even when the large concentrations of wildebeest are there, corpses of ungulates lie unattended by any carnivore and there are few hyena tracks and droppings about.”
Approximately 100 meters to the south of the Mara River, lies the Kogatende ranger post. The post is just to the left of the main road immediately before the Mara River bridge- the one that crosses on the way to Lamai. The Kogatende ranger post is built like an ancient fort. This part of the Serengeti was heavily poached by a neighboring tribe called the Wakuria in the 1950s and 1960s. The Lamai Triangle was added to the Serengeti National Park in 1965; when this occurred, a Wakuria insurrection ensued as the tribe lost access to their traditional hunting areas. Kogatende was constructed to protect the Serengeti rangers and anti poaching patrols, hence its formidable appearance.
The Lamai Triangle is a triangular shaped watershed area just north of the majestic Mara River. Lamai’s fresh water and verdant grasslands serve as a critical refuge for the migratory wildebeest and zebra during the late dry season. In fact, the majority of the migration usually resides here from early August until November. It’s one of East Africa’s best secrets that during the dry season, the secluded Lamai Triangle holds more of the migration than the more heavily toured Masai Mara game reserve just to the north in Kenya. A documented study conducted by the Serengeti Research Institute revealed that only about 15% to 35% of the migratory wildebeest and 10% to 20% of the migratory zebra populations in the Serengeti ecosystem utilize the Masai Mara reserve.
It is interesting to note that when the wildebeest numbers were low (1950s and 1960s), the animals of the migration barely even crossed the border into Kenya. In fact, neither Lamai nor the rest of the Northern Serengeti were heavily grazed during this period of time. During the dry season these relatively small numbers of wildebeest were content lingering in the grasslands of the Western Serengeti, which is now known as their transitional zone. As the population increased from 250,000 in 1961 to today’s 1.7 million, the wildebeest have been forced to migrate further north for forage during the dry season as the great herds quickly exhaust pastures. At the beginning of a typical dry season, the Western Serengeti is overgrazed quickly by the ravenous herds. The instinctive search for more food drives the wildebeest north towards Lamai.
The topography of Lamai is a mosaic of fertile grasslands, winding streams and rounded hills which delineate the border with the Masai Mara, Kenya. The Mara River defines the southern base of the Lamai Triangle, while Kenya’s border and the adjacent Serengeti border form the two sides. Lamai is 300 square miles of open plains is covered in a vast carpet of red oat grass, similar to the landscape of the Masai Mara in Kenya. This sweeping vista of rolling plains, dotted with the occasional acacia tree, is of stark contrast to the rest of Northern Serengeti’s dense woodlands (with the exception of a few open plains and valleys scattered within areas of broken woodlands including Lobo, Bologonja and Wogakuria). The Mara River can be thought of as the beginning of the Mara watershed area; it is only political boundaries that have chopped the Mara watershed into two blocks with one being the Lamai Triangle in Tanzania and the other being the Masai Mara reserve in Kenya. While there are hundreds of vehicles just a few miles north in the Masai Mara game reserve, the Serengeti side of the Mara watershed (i.e. Lamai) is an isolated wilderness virtually devoid of tourists. Throughout Lamai, one is able to witness the same caliber of game viewing without hordes of other vehicles, and the resulting solitude sets the stage for a much more intimate and rewarding experience.
The most captivating highlight of any safari to Lamai is undoubtedly the massive herds of wildebeest and zebra one can see during the dry season. However, Lamai also supports an abundance of resident wildlife including ostrich, topi, buffalo, warthog, elephant and giraffe. Lamai is perhaps the best spot in East Africa during the dry season to see the giant eland, which is Africa’s largest antelope. Massive yet elegant, these powerful antelopes have been known to gracefully leap fences over 10 feet tall. Male elands can exceed a remarkable 2,000 pounds in weight and it’s difficult to appreciate their immense size unless they are seen grazing next to a 500 pound wildebeest or a 50 pound gazelle. Their large size provides protection against most predators with the exception of the Serengeti’s largest lions and humans. Elands are prized for their meat and are heavily hunted throughout Africa. Even the Maasai people who being pastoralists do not typically hunt wildlife, are fond of elands as they have a rather cow-like appearance. Accordingly, elands are often difficult to approach closely and quick to amble away. Elands like the other three migratory species in the Serengeti (wildebeest, Thomson’s gazelle and zebra) utilize the woodlands in the dry season and plains in the green season.
As described above, Lamai serves a key role in supporting the patterns of the great migration. However, the Lamai triangle was not originally protected as a part of the Serengeti National Park. Prior to 1965 when the Lamai triangle was added, the Serengeti National Park ended abruptly at the Mara River. The premature boundary left this vital dry season refuge for the migration open for poaching. A pioneering field survey on the migration’s movements conducted by Bernhard Grzimek, revealed that a portion of the migration moved north past the Mara river into Lamai. Thanks in part to this study, the Lamai triangle was given a national park status and now serves as a protected haven for the migration in the dry season. Referring to the committee that argued for the addition of Lamai: “The Serengeti National Park must cover an area large enough to provide a viable ecological unit, embracing the full annual cycle of the animal migration.” Later years have since proven that this little known area called Lamai is in fact critical to the health of the migration; as wildebeest numbers have continued to increase, the search for more robust resources has indeed forced the great herds further north during the dry season.
Wogakuria is an enchanting area tucked away in the remote reaches of the Serengeti National Park’s northern extension. A special region full of unexpected wonders, Wogakuria is delineated by a series of open plains dotted with smooth granite kopjes and unique broad-leafed trees (as opposed to the characteristic acacia trees found throughout the rest of the park). This habitat of relatively open grasslands is strikingly different from the heavy woods that envelope the rest of the Northern Serengeti. Part of Wogakuria’s appeal is the unique animals that make their home here. The Wogakuria plains support the highest concentration of cheetahs in the Northern Serengeti, while the surrounding broad-leafed woodlands sustain the rare and beautiful oribi antelope. Several old buffalo bulls have been known to take refuge near the Wogakuria kopjes, located just to the northeast of the plains. These kopjes are also a favorite dwelling place for the small but surefooted klipspringer- a spry rock-dwelling antelope that effortlessly bounds between the towering boulders with zealous confidence. Several fresh water springs feed the Wogakuria area and provide life to an abundance of animals including lion, steenbok, ostrich, elephant, eland, Thomson’s gazelle and giraffe.
Wogakuria is located roughly in the middle of the Northern Serengeti’s woodlands. We commonly explore this special area with our guests as part of a full day game drive up to the Mara River and the Lamai Triangle. In fact, the small track that leads from the main road to the Mara River conveniently bisects the Wogakuria area. Setting out from any of the lodges in the North Serengeti on our signature Mara River adventure drive, you will pass directly through the Wogakuria area at the approximate midpoint of your journey to the river. As you head west on the first part of this drive, the acacia woodlands steadily transition into unique broad-leaved Terminalia woodlands. As the road curves north towards the Mara River, this wooded terrain gradually melds into Wogakuria’s open plains. These sweeping plains roll out under the spectacular Wogakuria kopjes that loom just to the east of the road. Wogakuria has been earmarked for construction of a new lodge according to the 2005 – 2015 Serengeti management plan. Our recommendation is to enjoy this splendid area while it is still pristine and devoid of visitors.
One of the main highlights of visiting the Wogakuria area is the chance to see the rare and elegant oribi antelope. The broad-leaved Terminalia woodlands around Wogakuria support the only oribi population in the Serengeti, and for that matter in all of Tanzania. It is estimated that there are 31 oribi per square kilometer in the Wogakuria area, which is actually the highest oribi density recorded in all of Africa!
An extensive field study was conducted in 1989 to examine the distribution and ecology of this beautiful antelope species. The results of this study revealed that the range of the oribi is limited to the broad-leaved Terminalia woodlands that are found only in the Wogakuria area of the Serengeti. Apparently oribi do not fare as well in the acacia woodlands, which predominate the rest of the areas of the Serengeti. The field study estimated an oribi population of 6,635 thrived in these exclusive broad-leafed woodlands of the Northern Serengeti. Small but graceful, the oribi is a dwarf antelope weighing only about 30 pounds. The oribi’s coat is a reddish brown color with pure white fur underneath, and a characteristic crescent shaped band of white fur arcs above large and expressive eyes. However, the most striking feature of this charming little antelope is the black spot or scent gland located below each ear, making this antelope easily identifiable. This scent gland is used to mark territories by rubbing it against a blade of grass.
As discussed above, it is also believed that the Wogakuria plains support the highest concentration of cheetahs in the Northern Serengeti. Cheetahs tend to thrive in wide open spaces where they can run freely, accelerating to top speed, and trip their prey. The dense thickets of trees that are found in the more heavily wooded areas of the North just seem to cramp this flashy cat’s style. Although cheetah numbers are thinly distributed throughout the north when compared with the denser populations found in the other areas of the park (i.e. central, east and southern regions), the few open areas in the north (including Wogakuria and Lobo) support a surprisingly large number of these elegant felines. Wogakuria, in particular, seems to be an ideal habitat for cheetah with vast open areas, a large population of gazelles, and relatively few hyena and lions (the cheetah’s main competitors). We have seen cheetahs on several occasions in Wogakuria; our guides and clients report cheetah sightings on a regular basis during the dry season as they game drive through this area en-route to the Mara River.
Myles Turner in his book entitled My Serengeti Years provides a wonderful summary of this splendid area:
“The Wogakuria Kopje, formerly named Nesheshaw on old German maps, towered 300 feet. For me, this tangled mass of rocks was always a fascinating place; an outstanding landmark in the rolling country of the Northern Extension. Klipspringer stared from its dizzy ledges and a big black mamba lived in deep cleft on the southern face. It always paid to be wary. The views from the summit were superb and I never tired of them. On a clear evening, turning north, one saw the valleys sweeping down to the Mara, and climbing away again across the river to the blue Isuria Escarpment – our boundary. To the northeast, one could pick out Keekorok Lodge, forty miles away in Kenya; and to its right, the great Kuga and Mogogwa Ranges. Turning east, the land rolled away towards Nyamalumbwa and Kleins Camp. Elephant and rhino were always in view. It was a wonderful area for old bachelor bull buffalo. On two occasions old bulls came right into camp to die. One very old bull wandered in one afternoon and lay down beside the ranger uniport. Feeling death close; he possibly chose a quiet end near human beings, to the alternative of being torn to pieces by hyena and lion.
Wogakuria was always been an interesting place to camp. In November 1964, two lions attacked a large herd of zebra on the rocky hillside just above us. From midnight onward, sleep was impossible as the lions pursued the herd around the hill. The grunting of the lions and the panicky honking of the zebras as they clattered over the rocks went on until the early hours. Finally, just before dawn, the lions killed and relative peace reigned again. At the time I was collecting bats for the Parks’ museum, and had six mist nets set up around camp. All were torn to pieces by stampeding zebra.”
Bologonja Springs is a lush and idyllic spot hidden away in the remote reaches of the Northern Serengeti. The water from these springs form the headwaters to the Bologonja River, which meanders northwest across the wide-ranging landscape of the Northern Serengeti until it unites with the splendid Mara River. The springs and surrounding canopy forest encompassed by the Bologonja River area are stunningly beautiful. Ample shade and fresh water are magnets to both migratory and resident animals during the dry season. Vervet monkeys shriek from the tree tops and baboons playfully romp under awnings of leafy foliage.
One has the chance to see many varieties of colorful birds here including kingfishers, hoopoes, rollers and the elegant crowned crane. Bologonja’s flourishing resources also support some unusual antelope species, including the mountain reedbuck and steenbok. Steenboks are charismatic little antelopes that are seldom seen in Serengeti, except for the Northern reaches of the park. These are commonly misidentified as oribi or even reedbuck. Steenboks can be recognized by a triangular black patch on the tip of the nose; this signature smudge adds charm to the little antelope’s appearance. Bologonja Springs is roughly an hour’s scenic drive just north of Migration Tented Lodge and Lobo Wildlife Lodge.
Bologonja Springs is also the site of the Bologonja park gate. Just ten miles to the north of this area is the Kenya’s Masai Mara game reserve. Prior to the border closure in 1977, it was actually possible to drive freely between the Serengeti and Masai Mara. This restriction is an inconvenience for travelers wishing to conduct both a Tanzania and Kenya safari during the same trip; however, the border closure has also helped to keep the Northern Serengeti incredibly pristine. While there are hundreds of vehicles just a few miles to the north in the Masai Mara game reserve, the Serengeti side is an isolated wilderness virtually devoid of tourists. Throughout the North Serengeti, one is able to witness the same caliber of game viewing without hordes of other vehicles and the resulting solitude sets the stage for a much more intimate and rewarding experience.
Stewart White was one of the first explorers to discover the Northern Serengeti and Bologonja Springs. In 1913 Stewart wrote: “The Bologonja was indeed a clear stream, running over pebbles and little rocks, shadowed by a loft vine hung jungle of darkness and coolness, little gray monkeys and brilliant birds. Yet twenty steps brought us into the open, where we could see the rolling green hills with their scattered little trees, and distant mountains here and there to the north, and the high noble arch of the cloudless African sky. And the game. Never have I seen anything like that game. Black herds of wildebeest like bison in the park openings, topi everywhere, zebra, hartebeest, tommy, Oribi, steenbok, impala, reedbuck and others.”
Besides its inherent scenic splendor, the main highlight of the Bologonja Springs area is the Bologonja salt lick (also called the Larelemangi salt lick). This salt lick is located just a couple miles downstream from Bologonja springs and is a special haven for wildlife. In contrast to the lush springs and canopy forest, this salt lick consists of about 1.5 acres of bare, wet earth on a seepage area near the river valley. This salt lick is evidently a permanent feature as Steward White noted in 1913. This area is a particularly good spot to see large herds of buffalo and elephant as both species seem to be regular visitors.
Myles Turner wrote in 1966: “The Larelemangi salt lick lies in one of the Serengeti’s great buffalo areas, and some herds numbered over 1,000 animals. In December 1963, I decided to camp at Larelemangi. I was awakened by an extraordinary, far-away rustling noise, like distant surf. As the noise grew closer, I realized that the rustling was an immense herd of buffalo. As the herd converged on the rocky ravines which led into the salt lick, the noise changed to an incredible grunting, snorting, clashing of horns and thunder of hooves. For the next hour I watched entranced as buffalo rasped at the salt with their rough tongues. Eventually, an old lion arrived and roared across the valley, and as one, the buffalo took off in splendid confusion, the noise of the stampede gradually fading into the distance.”
The main attraction in the Central Serengeti is undoubtedly the beautiful Seronera River Valley. Several perennial rivers run through this valley enabling an abundance of resident animals to thrive year round. The combination of location and resident prey attracts the largest and most diverse population of predators in Africa. It is this amazing abundance and diversity of easily seen large predators that attracts thousands of visitors and hundreds of researches to the Seronera River Valley each year. The secret is out – there is simply no better place in Africa to observe these large carnivores in action! Since many of these wild creatures call this place their permanent home, excellent encounters are available year round regardless of the season or where the great migratory herds are located. It is not unusual to encounter all four large predators (lion, hyena, leopard and cheetah) during the course of a day along with a multitude of smaller predators (mongoose, jackal, serval and bat-eared fox). Seronera is actually derived from the Maasai; the word ‘siron’ meaning the place of the bat-eared fox.
The scenic landscape of this pristine valley is truly magnificent. Endless savannas saturated in sunshine stretch beyond the horizon. Meandering rivers wind through a sundry montage of trees, pools, seasonal swamps and open fields. The dark silhouettes of umbrella shaped acacia trees rise above the plains and colossal mounds of granite kopjes loom in the distance, forming a classic image of quintessential Africa. Each day begins with the golden rays of sunrise striking across the eastern plains, and ends with an over-inflated sun smoldering in crimson glow on the western horizon – a daily cycle that you will never tire of seeing on these open plains. Sunrise and sunset are just one of the timeless rhythms of nature that drive life in this valley. Sweeping grasslands blanket the landscape – morphing from a verdant savanna in the green season to tawny sunlit plains in the dry season. During the northward and southward migrations, Seronera plays host to the greatest wildlife show on earth as over a million wildebeest and zebra pour through the valley in a thunder of echoing hooves and a haze of red dust. However, the true beauty of Seronera Valley is that no matter what time of year you might venture here, a whole world of life, drama, action, and wonder awaits!
Seronera River Valley is unique in many ways. However, the most striking feature of this valley is that no matter what the season is massive numbers of resident wildlife can be easily seen and photographed. You will consistently find lions sprawling in the sunlight on the crests of towering kopjes, and look for the famous Seronera leopards peering down from their shadowy perches in the arms of the sausage trees that line the river. Even cheetahs can be seen here, gracefully striding through the shifting grasses or scouting distant prey from the top of a termite mound. Seronera River Valley is a favorite hangout for these big cats as prey is always plentiful here.
One of the first photographic safaris in the Seronera River Valley was conducted in 1928 and was documented in a book called ‘Africa Speaks’ by Paul Hoefler. While camping where the Seronera Wildlife Lodge now stands, Hoefler writes about the spectacular Seronera Valley:
“From our camp we could look across a wide sweep of plain which ran into a low range of hills whose tops peeked over the horizon. As we gazed over this rolling veld, which was hemmed in on the left by large hills, and on the right by trees which melted in to the skyline, we could always see many thousands of animals. Here in our front yard Tommies, Grant’s gazelle, topi, kongoni, wildebeest and zebra kicked up their heels in play or stampeded in flight from real or fancied danger. On the farther plains were eland and giraffe, while the wooded hills sheltered mountain reedbuck, waterbuck, steinbuck, duiker, dik dik and impala. In the dongas lurked not only the big cats, the lion, leopard and cheetah, but many lesser carnivora. Scattered all over this tremendous area were troops of ostrich, thousands upon thousands of hyena, jackals, bat-eared foxes and warthogs. Once in a while a black rhino or a herd of buffalo or a few roan antelope would pay our front yard a visit. At no time night or day, were we out of sight or hearing of animals.”
The Seronera River Valley is home to an incredible diversity of wildlife due to its unique ecological niche as a transitional zone. A transitional zone, or ecotone, is where two distinctly different habitats merge and where various species of flora and fauna from both habitats can coexist. Seronera is the border zone between the Serengeti plains and the Serengeti woodlands. At Seronera the great Serengeti Plains stretch out to the south and east while the Serengeti Woodlands predominate to the north and west. Due this unique ecological feature, Seronera supports a much greater diversity of wildlife than any other place in Serengeti.
Large groups of portly hippos can be seen bobbing their heads above and below the surface of murky pools that are fringed in spiky cattails and shaded in leafy palms. Watch for the proud male impala, posing with his tall and elegant corkscrew horns, as he guides his shimmering band of females along the riverbanks. Pairs of dik dik anxiously dart between large clumps of grasses. It is interesting to note that these tiny antelope are monogamous and form bonds for life, so where you might see one dik dik be sure to keep an eye out for his or her mate following close behind. Giraffe exchange long glances with you from lofty perspectives as they browse thorny acacia trees at a leisurely pace; if startled, these gangly looking animals can move quite quickly with remarkable speed and unexpected grace.
Reedbuck and waterbuck frolic on the riverbanks of this valley, endlessly searching for the choicest bits of grass and reeds. Hartebeest can be seen ambling through the grasslands and open woodlands, looking rather somber with their long, solemn faces. Thomson’s gazelle glace about and nervously flick their little tails in unison, always alert for that cheetah stalking in the grass nearby. Groups of regal elephants stroll through these open woodlands with stately presence, displaying remarkable grace for animals such colossal size. Families of warthogs can be seen rooting for food in the grasses and thickets; if startled these amusing little animals will squeal in alarm and run away with tails pitched straight up in the air.
Large herds of buffalo strut about with their noses high in the air, tossing their mighty horns in arrogant confidence. Baboon families groom one another in the shade of acacia trees, one minute seemingly content with each other’s company and the next minute squabbling loudly in some dramatic family quarrel. Vervet monkeys swing effortlessly from the branches of thorny trees, playfully scolding one another and gazing down at bystanders with mischievous expressions that make you smile and also grip your valuables a bit tighter.
Wildlife viewing in the Seronera Valley is at its best during the northward migration (May-June) and southward migration (November-December). During these two periods when the wildebeest thunder through the valley, accompanied by thousands of zebra, Seronera offers some of the best game viewing in Africa. In general though, game viewing is great all year round in the Seronera Valley. Regardless of the migration, there is an abundance of resident (non-migratory) animals to thrill visitors year round, including Seronera’s famous lions and leopards.
Kay Turner, wife of Myles Turner who was chief game warden of the Serengeti from 1956 to 1972, eloquently writes in her book Serengeti Home, “For as long as we lived there I never ceased to be impressed by Seronera’s beauty. The sweeping plains were cropped short by grazing animals, and jutting rock outcrops lay scattered about the countryside, their sculptured shapes outlined against the sky. Flat-topped umbrella acacias and lime green thorn trees shaded the herds of gazelles and wildebeest. There was a quality of light that make the landscape glow, while the boundless sky shone with a blue vitality that seemed to crown the unique wonder of Seronera.”
Several perennial rivers flow through the Seronera Valley enabling a multitude of large mammals to flourish year round. The Seronera River is the largest and most well known of the four rivers that flow northwest from the plains through the valley, and ultimately fall into the Grumeti River which empties into Lake Victoria. From an aerial perspective, the Seronera River, Wandamu River, Songore River and Nyamanje River, all snake out through the broad entrance to the Seronera Valley like giant green fingers. Each river is lined with beautiful umbrella acacia, yellow barked acacia and sausage trees. The Seronera River in particular, with its seasonal swamps and deep pools of water, is an ideal habitat for lion and leopards. There is perhaps no easier place in Africa to see both these species of big cats in action.
Myles Turner writes,
“We camped on the Seronera River in January. It was the beginning of the rains, and the migrating wildebeest were scattered for miles around our camp in their countless thousands. Innumerable zebra, topi and Thomson’s gazelle were in sight all day long. Big-maned lions moved majestically among the herds. Prides of lionesses and cubs – sometimes as many as thirty – relaxed under the acacia trees. Green again after the onset of the rains, the great plains reached to the horizon, a paradise of grass and game, bathed in brilliant sunshine under a deep blue African sky.”
The game drive loops that parallel the Seronera, Wandamu, Songore and Nyamanje rivers are superb for wildlife viewing. Game-viewing along these game loops is good year round, although it is a bit better in the dry season when the lion prides are more sedentary and easily spotted in the parched grasses. The lions wait patiently for the hunt to come to them as prey animals are forced to regularly visit the rivers to drink. Each river has small tracks on either side that run up and down the entire length of the watercourse. The Seronera River game loops seem to be the best spot for lions, while leopards are commonly seen along the Songore River game loops. The Seronera River and respective game loops end at a big marsh on the backside of the Maasai Kopjes. This is a great spot to see lions in action and we have frequent reports from guides and guests seeing successful hunts here.
The banks along the Seronera River, along with the Songore River, are the best areas in Africa to find leopards. Elegance personified, leopards are notorious for being especially graceful and enigmatic. Maybe it is their stunning beauty or perhaps their incredible power, which captures the imagination of all visitors who travel here. Certainly having the opportunity to glimpse this stealthy cat is quite a thrill, as leopards are quite adept at hiding. However, if ever you are truly motivated to see a leopard in its natural habitat, this is the place to be! These mysterious and cunning felines favor the riverine forests that line these riverbanks. Aside from their stunning presence, it is the leopard’s elusive nature (and the tantalizing challenge to see one) that makes a leopard sighting a truly golden moment.
A study in the Serengeti found that there were 7 resident adult leopards in a 72 square mile study area in Seronera. This equates to about one leopard per ten square miles, and when cubs and a smaller proportion of nomadic leopard are factored in, Seronera boasts one of the highest concentrations of leopards in all of Africa. The large leopard population is compounded by the fact that there are relatively few large trees along these rivers; this combination of factors makes it easier to spot leopards in Seronera compared to more heavily wooded areas. We certainly recommend that you keep an eye out for this majestic cat in the branches of the sausage trees that dot the banks of each river. “Secretive, silent, smooth and supple as a piece of silk, he is an animal of darkness, and even in the dark he travels alone” – Edey, 1968
The leopard leads a solitary existence and adults only come together briefly to mate. In a short study conducted in Seronera, 155 leopard sightings were recorded, and during only 3 sightings were two leopards seen together. Cubs stay with their mothers until about 22 months of age at which time they become independent. The leopard is mainly nocturnal and most active in the dark of night, although it is commonly seen active during the day in Seronera. Referred to as the ‘Prince of Stealth’, leopards hunt by stealth and ambush. Leopards are able to drag large prey weighing more than their own body up a tree where they can eat in relative safety from marauding hyenas and lions. Look for a tail twitching in the branches of the trees along the rivers and watercourses of Seronera to spot these elusive and beautiful cats.
The rivers and watercourses in Seronera are certainly famous for leopards, but the large resident lion prides are greater attraction. These prides base themselves along the Seronera River during the dry season where they ambush their prey when it comes to drink. Lions usually hunt under the cover of darkness but the thick bush along the river provides enough cover for the predators to stalk their prey during the day.
George Schaller in his book The Serengeti Lion writes,
“When several lions spot potential quarry they characteristically fan out and approach in a broad front…And at no time is such movement more vitally beautiful that when a lion tautly snakes toward its prey. I found that fleeting hesitation between the end of the stalk and the final explosive rush a moment of almost unbearable tension, a drama in which it was impossible not to participate emotionally, knowing that the death of a being hung in the balance.”
The Seronera River Valley is well known for the largest resident lion prides in the Serengeti. It is the ‘Park Place’ of lion territories in the Serengeti due to the permanent sources of water and the high resident prey biomass. Each lion pride in the Serengeti is named after a noteworthy feature in their territory. Four of the largest prides in Seronera that frequent different sections of the Seronera River include the Masai Kopjes Pride, Makoma Hill Pride, Campsite Pride and the Seronera Pride.
Twenty-six resident lion prides residing in and around the Seronera Valley have been continuously studied since 1966 when George Schaller began his groundbreaking field study. The Serengeti Lion Project was hence created which is the longest continuous field study ever conducted on a large mammal. One female member from each of the 26 prides is radio collared so that they can be tracked and studied on a weekly basis. You will frequently encounter female lions with collars throughout the Central, South and East Serengeti, though one would never see two collared lions in the same spot as lion prides are fiercely territorial. George Schaller studied from 1966 to 1969, followed by Brian Bertram from 1969 to 1974, Jeannette Hanby and David Bygott from 1974 to 1978 and lastly Craig Packer starting in 1978. After 1978, the Serengeti Lion Project was taken over by the University of Minnesota under the directorship of Craig Packer. Two field biologists are stationed in Seronera 365 days a year to monitor and continue this long-term study. ADS is a proud sponsor of the Serengeti Lion Project and for a $500 donation, we can arrange a field talk by the current field biologists at the Lion House in Seronera where you can learn first-hand about the lions of the Serengeti.
Lions are intensely social animals and do almost everything as a group, and not just as a mob but also as a team. They hunt together, rear their young communally, and defend jointly held territories.
“A lion pride is a tightly knit group of adult females, their dependent young, and a coalition of immigrant males. The pride territory belongs to the females who pass it on from mother to daughter for generations. The males come into the pride as a group. They father the cubs and defend the pride against marauding bands of wandering or nomadic males. Every few years the resident coalition is replaced by yet another group of males. Husbands come and husbands go, but the matriarchy carries on forever.” – Packer, 1994
Approximately 5 miles north of Seronera, the flowing Seronera River and Orangi River converge to form a deep pool of water called the Retima Hippo Pool. Although hippos are common throughout all the rivers in the surrounding area, the deep pool at Retina is certainly the best spot in the Serengeti to view these enormous and fascinating animals. Retina Hippo Pool is also a great spot to see other animals including crocodiles, baboons, impala, giraffe, elephants and topi.
The most unique feature and compelling draw for visitors to the Retima Pool is that they are permitted to leave the vehicle and view the hippos on foot. The riverbank here is about 10-feet above the pool and it is possible to climb to only few feet away from the approximately 200 hippos that inhabit the pool. Great photography opportunities abound here as the large groups of hippos huddle together, spouting and grunting in the water. Our recommendation is to include a short visit to Retina Hippo Pool on every safari itinerary. It offers a pleasant excursion and presents a refreshing opportunity to stretch those safari legs. It is safe to watch these hippos from the bank as they bask in the water, but they should be avoided if found on land. Hippos are usually placid creatures but can become very aggressive if anything gets between them and water.
Crocodiles are commonly seen basking in the sun along the far shores of the hippo pool. One must approach quietly or else these shy reptiles will quickly hide. Elephants are also common visitors to this section of the Seronera and Orangi Rivers. Accompanied by your guide, you may walk as far as 300 feet to the west of the viewing terrace at Retina Hippo Pool to see the Seronera River. There is a good chance to see elephants drinking here in this ‘less crowded’ section of Retina, as fewer hippos occupy this particular area. Sightings of large groups of elephants have been reported here on several occasions. Birding is also particularly good in this area with common species seen including egrets, herons, crowned cranes, Egyptian geese, bare-faced go away birds, kingfishers, hoopoes, and the very colorful lilac-breasted rollers.
Hippos spend their days submerged in the cool water with only nose, eyes, and ears exposed, blinking in the abundant sunshine of the Serengeti day. Periodically they duck back under the water’s surface and then bobble back up again, blowing excess water from their nostrils and flicking it from their little pink ears. Hippos sometimes remain submerged for extended periods of time; however, they must resurface to breathe at least every 3-5 minutes. Sometimes you can witness them squabbling or engaged in rough play with one another, mouths wide open to display their incredibly long canine teeth and making quite a splash with their huge bodies. All sizes of hippos huddle together here; it’s interesting to note that baby hippos will often rest on their mothers’ backs when in water that is too deep for them. An adult hippo’s skin is thick, bulletproof and accounts for approximately 25% of their weight – however it is still sensitive to sunburn and dry out.
The main reason hippos stay submerged in water during the day is because their vulnerable skin seems unable to stand the effects of the strong equatorial sun. In fact, their skin secretes a pinkish liquid that acts as a sunscreen to protect it from ultraviolet rays, and this is why it is said that hippos turn pink in the sun. When night descends, these stout animals finally emerge from their water bed and graze by starlight under the cool relief of night. In spite of their bulky appearance, hippos are quite swift on the ground and can run faster than a human. Hippos have been known to wander several miles from their pool while grazing, but by the time sunrise burns through the morning haze, these portly beasts will have taken refuge once again in their pool retreat.
Moru Kopjes is simply stunning. An ocean of golden grasses wave in the sunlight as far as the eye can see. Smooth granite boulders rise from this sea of grass just as they have for millions of years, adorned by ornate candelabra trees that stretch their lofty arms to the heavens. An isolated wilderness of timeless beauty, Moru is an excellent place to lose yourself in the magic of the Serengeti. And when the migration thunders through the area, Moru Kopjes is simply unbeatable! Among the many highlights at Moru is the chance to encounter the rare black rhino and climb the gong rocks to see the Maasai paintings. Our recommendation is to include some time on every safari to explore this secret gem of the Serengeti.
Kay Turner, wife of Myles Turner who was chief game warden of the Serengeti from 1956 to 1972, eloquently writes in her book Serengeti Home, “One of my favorite camps in the Serengeti was at Moru on the western edge of the central plains. This area, covering the most extensive kopjes in the Park, was believed to have been formed millions of years ago, preceding a long period of erosion that resulted in the formation of vast plains, jutting rocks and isolated ranges. The kopjes extended for miles, dotted with candelabra Euphorbia trees that stood above the surrounding vegetation. Shrubs and trees grew profusely amidst gigantic granite boulders, golden grasslands rippled in the wind like the waves of the sea, and the sky always seemed grander there than anywhere else. Of all the scenic wonders of the Serengeti, I thought Moru the most beautiful.”
A short walk up one of the kopjes at Moru leads to a series of Maasai paintings and gong rock. A shield, elephants and people are painted on the walls in colors that are seen on Maasai shields; the white and yellow come from clays, the black from the ash of a wild caper and the red is clay mixed with juice from the wild nightshade. Presumably the artists were a band of young Maasai warriors (called il-moran) who wandered for several years before settling down to their pastoral life. A couple hundred feet away from the paintings is gong rock, which consists of a large rock with circular holes that may have been used as a communication device. Both the paintings and gong rock offer a chance for a pleasant walk and the views from the kopje are spectacular. This is certainly a great spot for a picnic lunch.
The Moru Kopjes is home to the remaining population of black rhinos in the Serengeti. Between 1975 and 1980, rhinos were poached to almost extinction here. In one year alone (1977), an estimated 52% of the original 1,000 rhinos that inhabited the Serengeti were slaughtered for their horns, which are used as aphrodisiacs in Asia and as dagger handles in the Middle East. By 1982, only two surviving females were counted and both sought refuge in the Moru Kopjes. The situation for the black rhino looked bleak until a young bull from the Ngorongoro Crater named ‘Rajabu’ left the Crater and followed old migration routes into the Serengeti and to the Moru Kopjes (a 70-mile journey). Rajabu was obviously welcomed by the two remaining females and four calves were born over the next several years.
There are now 12 black rhinos in the Moru Kopjes area thanks to this amazing journey undertook by Rajabu. Though there are several rhinos that are resident in Moru Kopjes, it is difficult to catch a glimpse of these rare and magnificent animals. In 1995, the Serengeti Rhino Project was launched and tracking devices were implanted in each of the rhinos’ horns. The rhinos in the Moru Kopjes are monitored 24-hours a day and you will often see rhino patrol vehicles in the Moru area. There is a small visitors center at Moru where one can learn more about the Serengeti’s rhinos and the conservation strategies being employed.
Moru Kopjes is situated at the mouth of the Mbalageti River Valley where there is water, some shade and abundant grazing. With such plentiful resources the migration tends to stall here during its northward and southward movements. Eventually however, the great herds do exhaust the food supply and are forced to move on. The Mbalageti River Valley links the plains to the woodlands and forms a natural corridor that the wildebeest and zebra migration follow each year. During May-June (northward migration) and November-December (southward migration), Moru Kopjes offers phenomenal game-viewing as it lies directly on the main wildebeest and zebra migration route.
Game-viewing is at its best in Moru during May for the northward migration. At this time, significant portions of the wildebeest migration thunder through Moru as they move northwest along the Mbalageti River on their epic journey. The entire Moru Kopjes area is choked black with unending masses of wildebeest and zebra. The pounding of hooves, the wild grunts of gnus and giddy chortles of zebra vibrate through the air and overwhelm the senses. Domed in vast blue skies with a stage of sweeping golden plains, Moru Kopjes is a grand theatre to witness perhaps one of the most awe-inspiring moments of the migration.
May is also the time of the wildebeest rut. A synchronized mating pandemonium ensues as the migration comes together and marches off the plains. Male wildebeest madly dash about rounding up females and chasing off other males. Male bulls establish frequent mobile territories (no more than 100 feet in diameter) and each one attempts to retain as many passing cows as possible. Territories may be retained for only a few crazed hours as the great herds are constantly on the move. The noise and commotion of over half a million bulls grunting and clashing horns can be overwhelming.
After the rut in May and an 8.5-month gestation period, the synchronized calving takes place in early February on the southern plains. The original hypothesis was that the wildebeest calved in February to correspond with the time when the protein and mineral content of grass was at its greatest and most readily available for lactating females. However, latest research shows that the timing of the wildebeest calving is actually due to the rut needing to take place at the time when the migration concentrated in the smallest area. This convergence happens at the end of the green season during May when the wildebeest come together to march off the plains and funnel through the Moru Kopjes and Mbalageti River Valley.
The Moru Kopjes (elevation of 5,368 feet) are located in the southern area of the Central Serengeti. The Moru Kopjes area can be thought of as a plains-woodland transition zone. The vast Serengeti plains stretch to the south and east horizons from Moru. To the north and west, these golden plains give way to shady woodlands. The soil composition is unique in this area allowing for characteristics of both plains and woodlands habitat (long grass and scattered trees). Resident herbivores include black rhino, elephant, giraffe, impala, buffalo, waterbuck, topi and warthog. Large bands of elephants have been seen here- mothers and offspring of various ages, gliding through these tree studded grasslands. Resident carnivores include hyenas, leopards and several lion prides. Rock hyrax and baboons are commonly seen clambering on the kopjes. Moru is a critical water catchment area for the Mbalageti River which flows northwest from the plains to the woodlands.
Peter Matthiessen in 1972 writes; “The Moru Kopjes rise like monuments in a parkland of twenty-five square miles. Impala, buffalo and elephant are attracted to the Morus from the western woods, and the elephants, which are celebrated climbers, attain the crests of the steep kopjes, to judge from the evidence heaped upon the rock. One day at noon, from this elephant crest, a leopard could be seen on the stone face of the kopjes to the south, crossing the skeletal shadows of a huge candelabra euphorbia. In the stillness that attended the cat’s passage, the only sound was a rattling of termites in the leaf litter beneath my feet.”
Just to the northeast of Moru Kopjes lies the shallow and saline Lake Magadi, which can be a great spot for pink flamingos to gather in the glass like waters. There are two saline lakes in the Serengeti including Lake Ndutu and Lake Magadi. The Swahili word for ‘magadi’ means soda and hence the name translates to Soda Lake. These lakes are very shallow and may be completely dry at the end of the dry season. Such soda lakes are formed in natural depressions from which there are very limited outlets and minerals like sodium build up quickly. When of these lakes dry up through evaporation; the dry earth they leave behind glitters with a white encrustation of salts.
Both Lake Magadi and Lake Ndutu attract greater and lesser flamingos, which feed on the algae and brine shrimps that flourish in the alkaline waters. Flamingos obtain their food by sifting mud and retaining very small organisms by means of a comb like filter on the edges of their bills. Bat eared foxes, almost comical looking with their enormous radar ears, have been seen digging for insects in sunshine where the water from the lake has receded. Lake Magadi is also a great place to witness predation as lions use the bordering swamp grasses to hide and ambush unsuspecting animals as they come to drink.
The Maasai Kopjes form the eastern boundary of the magnificent Seronera River Valley. Massive stacks of boulders seem to have been heaped upon one another and rise above the landscape, abruptly interrupting the smooth skyline of the surrounding plain. These heavily vegetated kopjes stand like sentinels overlooking the broad entrance to the infamous Seronera River Valley. The craggy hollows and smooth granite crests of these towering kopjes are the home base to one of the Serengeti’s most legendary lion prides called the Maasai Lion Pride. The Maasai Lion Pride, along with the Sametu Lion Pride to the southeast, make up two of the biggest prides in the Serengeti. Many generations of lions from these prides have been continuously studied by scientists since 1966 when the Serengeti Lion Project was formed. The Maasai Kopjes is a must see on any safari to the Seronera River Valley as tremendous wildlife viewing opportunities exist here.
One of the best game loops in the Seronera Valley parallels the Seronera River, starting from the Seronera airstrip and meandering all the way down to the Maasai Kopjes at the beginning of the plains. From this point there are several game loops that encircle the Maasai Kopjes as well as the swamp on the south side which is home to the rare Bohor reedbuck. Ostriches dance their courtship tango in the shadow of the kopjes, bobbing their heads in the air and flashing their ornate plumage in dramatic style. Several other species of animals may be seen on this game loop including the black-backed jackal, leopard, waterbuck, gazelle and spotted hyena. Continuing on from the Maasai Kopjes will lead you to even more rewarding game tracks further out on the plains – all the way to the Sametu Kopjes or even further out to the remote Barafu Kopjes.
The rock outcrops of the Serengeti are one of the Park’s most delightful habitats. The more visible ones on the open plains stand out like islands in a sea of grass. These rock outcrops are called ‘kopjes’, an Afrikaans word meaning ‘little head’, and they often do resemble heads or fantastic sculptures. They consist of 2 – 3 billion year old granite rock, which because of erosion and weathering, has been broken up into a jumbled pile of rocks. On the open plains where the countryside has been leveled off by ash deposits from the volcanoes of the crater highlands, the kopjes emerge as towering monuments. It is said that on the Serengeti Plains, “the bone of Africa emerges as magnificent kopjes.”
Kopjes are remarkable in that they have their own little ecosystem with a range of vegetation and wildlife including hyrax, mongoose, porcupines, lizards and birds. Each kopje is indeed like an island with its own community of plants and animals as well as being a refuge for a mother cheetah or lion with cubs. The kopjes serve as water catchments and in the clefts where soil has mixed with eroded rock, tree seeds take root that would be otherwise unable to survive on the surrounding plains.
The beautiful Bohor reedbuck can be seen in the swamp on the south side of the Maasai Kopjes. Formed by the Seronera River, this swamp is a magnet for wildlife. It is interesting to note that reedbucks are monogamous and form bonds for life, so where you might see one reedbuck, be sure to keep an eye out for his or her mate following close behind. The Bohor reedbuck is only found in swampy areas or along rivers where the grass is tall enough to conceal them. These reddish colored antelope are slender and elegant; the male reedbuck has two horns which point forward, giving it quite a unique profile. Reedbucks possess the ability to live off this long and coarse grass which other grazers find completely unpalatable.
The aforementioned swamp on the south side of the Maasai Kopjes is also a famous hunting spot for the resident Maasai Lion Pride. In some hunts, a lion pride may seem to cooperate but in truth the behavior may be completely accidental.
George Schaller who studied the Maasai Kopjes Lion Pride in the late 1960’s writes,
“Four lioness walking down a road in single file by the Maasai Kopjes see about ten gazelles by a riverine thicket 65 meters away. While three wait, one lioness continues on alone, partly screened by acacia saplings. The gazelles spot her after 40 meters and trot to one side. The lioness rushes toward them, causing four gazelle to double back, two of which run directly in front of the three waiting lionesses. These rush and one captures a sub adult male.”
In spite of these big cats’ strategy or lack of it, having the opportunity to witness a lion hunt is one of the most thrilling moments one can hope for during a safari. Watching these supple cats in action – power and grace incarnate – is a heart-pumping exercise that you won’t soon forget. Imagine a herd of zebra grazing quietly in the distance while downwind several dark figures slink silently through tall grasses, their golden fur blending imperceptibly with the flaxen landscape. You are watching the entire spectacle unfold as both hunter and hunted play out this timeless drama of life and death. Bright eyes peering just above the grasses with body hugging the ground, the cats slowly and methodically stalk through the grasses and close in on their prey.
One lioness zeros in on a target, belly low to the ground, her gaze sharply focused in deadly concentration. Her mind is swiftly calculating every detail of her prey, her position and the distance between them, while every muscle is poised and ready to spring. An unbearable anxiety suspends your own breathing as you wait in silent anticipation for the inevitable attack. Then it happens. The lioness releases all the accumulated tension in a single surge of power as she leaps – in a golden blur she is gone in hot pursuit of the startled prey. Your heart is pounding and you are rooting for the zebra she has chosen – ‘Run! Run! Run!’ – your mind silently screams as this being’s life hangs in the delicate balance of life and death.
Then you think back to the beautiful lion cubs you saw back at the kopjes just hours before, pouncing and tumbling in the sunlight, lost in blissful play; their future also hangs in the balance and depends entirely upon their mother’s success. Ironically, you may find yourself cheering for the lioness and the survival of her tiny babies. And this is the bittersweet paradox that rules triumph and tragedy on these Serengeti plains. It is a drama that plays out daily but is never commonplace. If you are lucky enough to witness a hunt, regardless of the outcome, you will never forget your personal testimony to this small slice of nature’s great mystery.
Makoma Hill is a prominent hill that forms the western edge of the action packed Seronera Valley. It is directly in front of the hill lies a small but idyllic plain referred to as the Makoma Plain. The Makoma Plain is bordered by Makoma Hill to the west and the Seronera River to the east. The beautiful Thatch Kopjes rise above the surrounding area and their commanding presence dominates the center of the plain. Each of these three landmarks (Makoma Hill, Makoma Plain and Thatch Kopjes) is a scenic wonder and offers tremendous wildlife viewing opportunities. The wooded Makoma Hill is a good spot to see giraffe and impala, the long grass Makoma Plains is a great habitat for cheetah, buffalo, gazelle and spotted hyena, and the Thatch Kopjes are favored by the large Makoma lion pride. The Makoma lion pride consistently uses the Thatch Kopjes as a den site and cubs are commonly seen playing on the granite boulders that make up the kopjes.
Game drives around the aforementioned areas of Makoma can be incredibly rewarding. For lack of better words, the game loop is simply called the Makoma Game Loop. This loop circles the entire Makoma Plain with several smaller tracks encircling the Thatch Kopjes. While game driving through the Makoma Plain, it is common to see large groups of buffalo and gazelle. The gazelle reside here only during the dry season. However the buffalo appear to be resident and make this area their home year round. One large buffalo herd numbering over 100 individuals is commonly seen here on a regular basis.
The Makoma lion pride, as well as large clans of spotted hyena, can typically be seen hunting on these plains. There is a tremendous conflict in this area between lions and hyenas, as both of these strong predators are found in large numbers and compete with each other for food in this small but prey rich area.
Raptors, especially tawny eagles, are frequently encountered here along with a host of other small carnivores such as the black-backed jackal and the bat-eared fox. The black-backed jackal is a small, smart looking canine that resembles a tawny fox with a thick stripe of black and silver running down its back. A black-backed jackal and his mate will form a monogamous bond for life, and the two partners will defend their territory together. Bat-eared foxes are another small predator that lives in this area; these amusing little foxes can be seen frisking about in the clearings or sniffing for their next insect lunch in a termite mound.
There is a second track that wraps around the backside of Makoma Hill to a secret area tucked away from the main plain. This is a superb spot well off the beaten path of the busy Seronera Valley and we commonly set up picnic lunches here at the base of the hill. This isolated location has a spectacular view looking out over the grassy plains. This picnic site is one of the hidden gems of Seronera. Picnic in complete solitude under a clear sky washed in blue, with giraffes browsing behind you on the hill and gazelles grazing below you on the plains.
Makoma is situated in a great location for wildlife viewing throughout the year, but it is at its best when the migration thunders north in May/June and south in November/December. The migration is certainly the favorite time of year for the Makoma Hill lion pride and the large clans of hyena that call this area their home. Hans Kruuk, who spent four years studying spotted hyenas in the Serengeti, writes: “Makoma Plain is a small region at the north western edge of the Serengeti plains which is obviously a very important area of passage for ungulates and hyenas between their wet and dry season rages.”
Cheetahs use the long grass plains that surround Makoma Hill extensively in the dry season while during the green season they migrate back out to the short grass plains to the east. Generally, cheetahs live their lives in pursuit of the migratory Thomson’s gazelles, with the exception of a few resident cheetahs stationed at high biomass areas with good cover such as Makoma. The majority of cheetahs in the Serengeti are migratory with the exception of a small proportion of males, which are resident and set up permanent territories. In a nine-year study conducted on the cheetahs of the Serengeti, T.M. Caro concluded that there were only eight cheetah territories in the bottom half of the Serengeti, including Makoma Hill, Simba Kopjes, Naabi Hill, Gol Kopjes, Ndutu, Barafu Kopjes, Maasai Kopjes, and Hidden Valley.
As previously mentioned, spotted hyenas are commonly seen in the Makoma area. Hyenas are social animals and often live in large groups called clans. A force to be reckoned with on these African plains, a hyena has jaws strong enough to crush bones and a heart twice the size of an adult male lion. Hyenas are renowned for several unique characteristics, perhaps the most notorious being its distinctive whoop or ‘laughing’ call; one can often hear their cackle vibrating through the peaceful air of night or interrupting the stillness of early dawn. Another unique trait of the hyena is that their front legs are slightly longer than their hind legs, giving them a distinctive profile and an ambling gait. Hyenas are extremely intelligent and strategic hunters, and have been known to employ specific, focused strategies for hunting different types of prey. Hyenas and lions are mortal enemies, and there will never be a dull moment here in Makoma as long as their territories continue to overlap.
Makoma was home to a very unusual phenomenon as recorded by Hans Kruuk during his study of the Spotted Hyena. The below has never been witnessed before and was most likely due to a very violent thunderstorm that hit Makoma, causing much chaos and confusion.
Hans Kruuk writes,
“On the morning of 16 November 1966, on the Makoma Plains where many thousands of Thomson’s gazelles that had gathered during the previous two weeks. I found scattered over an area of about 8 square kilometers 59 dead Thomson’s gazelle and 27 badly injured ones. In and around the area were 19 hyenas, all with extremely distended stomachs, but from only 13 of the 59 dead gazelle did I find anything that had been eaten. It seemed most likely that the hyenas had eaten several gazelle completely, leaving no traces of them. The night had been very dark with thick cloud cover, very heavy rain, and strong gales. I collected a number of the victims and studied their injury pattern, which suggested that the victims had been grabbed randomly at any part of their body. The tracks showed that the hyenas had walked quietly from one animal to another, a number of them operating quite independently of each other; after killing a gazelle they left and walked on to the next one.”
Turner’s Spring is located at the heart of the Central Serengeti in a thicket of bushes and acacia trees. The spring itself is difficult to see, but is a magnet for wildlife during the dry season including lion, giraffe, buffalo, leopard, impala and hyena. Turner’s Spring is named after Myles Turner, who was chief game warden of the Serengeti National Park from 1956 to 1972. Myles Turner took on his post just after the inception of the park. These early years were among the darkest and most uncertain days in the Serengeti’s history. Poaching was widespread, unchecked and threatened the survival of the entire ecosystem. Due to Myles Turner’s untiring and dedicated conservation and anti-poaching efforts, the great herds of Africa’s finest wildlife sanctuary still roam free today. Norman Myers eloquently writes, “Myles Turner epitomized the Serengeti. Others visited it, he was part of it; others observed it, he knew it; others analyzed it, he comprehended it; others enjoyed it, he loved it.”
The location of Turner’s Spring is wonderfully remote and isolated from the many visitors that flock to the Central Serengeti. The area is home to two of the Serengeti’s finest dry season campsites which are situated on either side of a massive and heavily vegetated kopje. Of course, game drives to Turner’s Spring can be conducted whether or not you are staying at the campsites. The game track into Turner’s Spring is approximately 5-miles long and heads directly east from Seronera.
The Turner’s game track offers superb wildlife viewing opportunities, as it cuts across thick acacia woodlands punctuated with small open areas where many animals congregate. This is a great area to see large groups of giraffes and buffalo. The giraffe in this area are especially habituated to vehicles and will often come to within a few feet of your vehicle. The game track also offers excellent leopard viewing as these elusive cats are often seen discretely peering from the acacia trees that line the road, given away by the white tip of their flicking tail that hangs just a little too low. One time during a single game drive into Turner’s Spring, three separate leopards were spotted only a few feet from the road!
Wildlife viewing for various species of animals is great around the Turner’s area, but it’s the resident lion prides that steal the show. With cat-like disdain, these golden felines rule the entire surrounding area with regal confidence. Lions are quite social in nature – hunting, eating, sleeping, and even playing together in tightly knit communities. The lionesses form strong bonds within a pride, and work together as a team to rear their cubs. Pride territories are fiercely guarded by whichever male lions are the most confident and physically powerful. Displaying the noble air of royalty one minute and the playfulness of a kitten the next, these big cats are quite entertaining to watch as they interact. There are three resident lion prides within a 10-mile radius, and each of these prides is studied by the Serengeti Lion Project. These notorious lions are frequently encountered by enthralled visitors during the day and their spine-tingling roars are regularly heard during the night.
Turner’s Spring is indeed the ‘park place’ of lion territories in the Serengeti, due to the permanent sources of water and high biomass of resident prey. Be ready for a thrill if you are camping at Turner’s Spring because you will certainly hear their powerful roars at night, especially during the dry season when resident prey densities are at their highest.
Craig Packer, director of the Serengeti Lion Project, writes on the subject of lions,
“Lions roar most during seasons of plentiful prey, when nomad lions or neighbors might be tempted to pilfer from their larder. Roaring tells the strangers how many lions occupy a given territory and where they are at the moment. Roaring also tells companions what is happening within the pride…each sex is fiercely territorial. Males are on the constant lookout to keep other males away from “their” pride, and females are intolerant of any strange female that wanders into their territory.”
Male and female lions roar similarly except that the calls of the male are somewhat deeper in tone. A roar can be detected from as far as 5-miles away. Roaring by one group member often stimulates others to join, and the ensuing concert is surely one of the most powerful and impressive animal sounds in nature.
George Schaller notes during his four-year study in the Serengeti,
“Lions call mostly at night and generally roars are rare before 5.00pm and after 8.00am. Roaring advertises the lion’s presence and in essence denotes ‘Here I Am’ and in this capacity has several functions as a long-distance signal. First, it helps lions find each other, although their propensity to ignore calls makes this somewhat difficult. Once, for example a male lost sight of a lioness he was following. He roared but received no response and finally tracked her by scent. Second, roaring enables lions to avoid contact, by, for instance, delineating the pride territory. Third, roaring enhances the physical presence of an animal by making it more conspicuous. During antagonistic encounters roaring may help to intimidate the opponent. Fourth, communal roaring, like most social endeavors may help to strengthen the bond of the group.”
Though the lion’s roar may be legendary, the spotted hyena of the Serengeti is actually the most vocal animal in the park. Hans Kruuk, who lived in the Serengeti between 1964 and 1968 studying spotted hyenas, writes:
“The loud melancholy ‘who-oop’ call of the hyena is one of the most characteristic sounds of Africa, and the maniacal laughter of this species is also very well known. But hyenas produce many other sounds besides; they are very vocal, and during my study I was able to distinguish between a number of different calls: whoop; fast whoop; grunt; groan; giggle; yell; growl; soft grunt laugh; whine; soft squeal…The giggles, yells and growls which accompany the attacks over food around a kill may attract hyenas from a great distance. In Ngorongoro, where lions often steal hyena kills, I sometimes found myself watching the hyenas over a kill and wishing for their own sake that they would be quiet, because their deafening noises attracted lions from miles away!”
Myles Turner’s book entitled ‘My Serengeti Years’ is arguably the best book ever written about the Serengeti and is highly recommended. It is a wonderful firsthand account of the Serengeti, from the unique perspective of an ex big-game hunter turned stern conservationist. Myles’s account of his 16 year tenure as chief game warden of the Serengeti is packed full of fascinating wildlife stories, including close encounters with infuriated rhinos, fearless honey badgers and deadly poachers. It’s hard to resist the pull of the Serengeti once you’ve finished My Serengeti Years and you will undoubtedly be planning your Serengeti safari or returning for another one shortly thereafter.
Serengeti Home is another must read before, during or after your safari, and is a great companion book to Myles Turner’s My Serengeti Years. Kay Turner lived in the Serengeti with her husband, Myles Turner, who was chief game warden for 16 years. Kay Turner’s book details her adventures, including raising her family in the Serengeti (this chapter is charmingly titled “Bush Babies”), humorous stories about her wild pets including ‘Chuta’ the bat-eared fox, ‘Gussie’ the Grant’s gazelle, and ‘Prince’ and ‘Pixie’ the Serval cats. Kay shares many wonderful adventures both living and going on safari in the Serengeti.
The chapter in Kay’s book about camping in the Serengeti will undoubtedly have you excited to camp at Turner’s Spring:
“After a long day out in the sun amongst the game, we would return to camp…then, stretching our feet towards the campfire with drinks in hand, we enjoyed seeing the sun sink slowly towards the horizon and the stars appear in the thousands, until it seemed there was no space in the sky for more. The sky at night felt close on those treeless plains, and it glowed with a soft and enveloping radiance that inspired a feeling of harmony with the universe. We were alone in that immense open country, and it seemed the stars displayed their brilliance solely for us. After an early supper, we would be lulled to sleep by the rhythmic sound of the wildebeest bleating, interspersed by the off-key moan of a hyena or the plaintive cry of a stone curlew.”
A visit to Turner’s Spring is only recommended during the dry season, from July to November. During the green season (December to June), the small track out to the remotely located Turner’s Spring can be difficult to navigate when wet. Additionally, wildlife will be less concentrated in the woodlands immediately around Turner’s Spring during the green season, as the resident animals have many other sources of water. The best place to be during the green season is in the open plains to the south.
LONG GRASS PLAINS
The long grass plains or transitional plains consist of a massive area of long grasses and termite mounds, roughly located in the stretching miles between Seronera in the Central Serengeti and Naabi Hill in the South Serengeti. In this area, the grass grows tall due to the fact that the soil base is deep and less alkaline than other areas of the Serengeti. On the short grass plains, further to the south and east, the soil base is shallow and an impenetrable volcanic hard pan prevents root growth and thus only shallow roots and short grasses persist. The great legions of wildebeest and gazelle prefer the short, more nutritious grass (more leaf then stem) found in the Southern and Eastern Serengeti, as compared with the coarser grass (more stem then leaf) found here on the long grass plains preferred by the zebras.
The zebra migration is significantly different than that of the migratory wildebeest in terms of their migratory movements and range of habitats. Specifically during the green season while the wildebeest migration is located in the South Serengeti and the Thomson’s gazelle migration in the East Serengeti, the great armies of zebra can be found on the long grass plains numbering into the hundreds of thousands. Except at the beginning and end of the green season and during extremely dry years, wildebeest only lightly graze the long grass plains, probably because the grasses grow tall and coarse so rapidly that most grazers (except for zebra) find them unpalatable. Zebras are able to eat longer grass which is too poor a quality to support wildebeest and gazelle.
When it comes to zebras, it’s not all black and white. These beautiful and spirited horses of Africa lead fascinating and complex lives. To a casual observer zebras appear to move in large homogeneous groups similar to wildebeest, but in fact the zebra community is composed of many family units, each controlled by a dominant stallion with 2 to 6 mares. Looking closely at a large group of zebra one will note a patchy distribution of small groups as opposed to a plain filled with wildebeest in which they are evenly distributed. The stallion always brings up the rear of its harem when being pursued which makes it much more susceptible to predation.
Once a maiden mare is claimed by a stallion and joins a harem, the mare will stay with this tightly knit family group for life. Astonishingly, stallions often form alliances with other males, standing together or fondly greeting one another with playful nips. Mares also form bonds with one another, staying together even if their lead stallion dies and is replaced by another. It is common to see zebras standing in pairs, with one’s head facing the other’s tale or head casually resting over the other’s back. In this buddy stance, the zebras watch for predators and will mutually groom each other by nibbling the hair on the other’s neck and back. The mutual grooming develops and preserves their strong family bonds.
Zebras also look out for one another and will actively search for a lost family member if it becomes separated from the rest of the herd. The herd also adjusts its traveling pace to accommodate the old and the weak so they don’t get left behind. An animal of great strength and spirit, zebras are quite swift and graceful. They have rock solid hooves and a strong kick that can kill a lion.
A striking contrast of black and white streaks drape themselves over the zebra’s glossy coat in surreal perfect patterns that resemble modern art more than a naturally occurring phenomenon. It is interesting to note that no two zebras have the same stripe pattern – they are the snowflakes of the Serengeti with each individual being unique. These stripes are thought to be a form of cryptic coloration, intended to mislead an attacking predator by making it unable to single out a specific target. Zebras are conspicuous in broad daylight, but at night, dawn and dusk – the hours when most predation occurs – the stripes seem to blend and zebras become well camouflaged in the dark shadows and glinting moonlight. Watching thousands of these brilliantly striped zebras march together across the plains is a remarkable natural spectacle that you will never forget.
One of the more surprisingly interesting features of the long grass plains are the towering clay castles constructed by one of the Serengeti’s smallest creatures, the termite. Termites may be small but they do not keep a low profile. Their presence is well known throughout the Serengeti as the mounds they erect can be incredibly large at times. Termites are powerful recyclers of vegetation and extremely important to the health of the Serengeti Plains. Termites fertilize, water and aerate the soil by building their tunnels and helping to decompose and distribute vegetation underground. Termites are not only important recyclers of nutrients, but their mounds also provide homes, resting places, lookout points and burrows for a host of mammals, reptiles and birds, including aardvarks, red and yellow barbets, cheetahs, genets, hares, hyenas, mongooses, monitor lizards, pangolins, porcupines, toads and topi antelopes.
Nearly 500 species of birds have been recorded in the Serengeti National Park. Many of them are European migrants and are present only from October to April. One of the best examples is the white stork which breeds in Europe and Russia. Its migration far exceeds that of the wildebeest. When summer ends, hundreds of thousands of white storks head south arriving in the Serengeti at the beginning of the green season. On the long grass plains, they find population explosions of grasshoppers and caterpillars enough to sustain them until the end of the green season. Then they fly north in the late spring, reaching Europe when food is abundant and where they can nest and raise their chicks.
The eastern plains of the Serengeti ecosystem encompass a massive area. They begin roughly just east of Naabi Hill. They extend east through the Gol Kopjes, Lemuta Hill, Nasera Rock, Angata Kiti, the Salei Plains and all the way to the Ngorongoro Highlands and the active volcano Mount Lengai. This area is approximately 50 miles wide from west to east. The southern border of eastern plains is roughly Olduvai Gorge and the northern border reaches into the Loliondo game controlled area.
The eastern plains are similar to the southern plains in that they are extremely seasonal. During the dry season, the eastern plains are transformed into a semi desert and only a few hearty Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelles survive. However, the eastern plains come to life in the wet season from November through May and offer prolific wildlife viewing for certain species of animals. A day trip, at the minimum, should be included in every green season itinerary.
The Gol Kopjes, located on the Eastern Plains, boast the highest concentrations of cheetahs in Africa during the wet season. The majority of the cheetahs in the Serengeti are migratory in that many of them follow the Thomson’s gazelle migration to the eastern short grass plains during the wet season, and then back to the Central Serengeti (plains/woodland border) during the dry season. During the wet season, the eastern plains offer the best cheetah viewing in the Serengeti and in all of Africa. On a full day game drive to the GOL kopjes, you will likely encounter several groups of cheetahs. Cheetahs are strictly diurnal (daytime) hunters, and with a little luck you will witness the fastest land animal in the world in action.
In addition to cheetahs, the eastern plains are home to the largest concentrations of hyenas during the green season. Large clans of hyenas, numbering up to 30 individuals, are regularly spotted from Naabi Hill east through the Gol kopjes and Lemuta Hill. Hyenas, the most abundant predator in the entire ecosystem, are semi-nomadic and ‘commute’ to the Eastern Plains during the wet season from their den sites located in the Central Serengeti. Lion numbers are also high on the eastern plains during the wet season. The majority of the lions in the Serengeti are resident but a significant portion is nomadic (roughly 20%), and they follow the migratory animals to the plains each wet season. However, lions are rarely encountered east of Lemuta and they are much more readily seen inside the Serengeti, including the Gol Kopjes area.
The Thomson’s gazelle and eland migration differs from the wildebeest and zebra migration in that these animals utilize the eastern plains much more than the southern plains of the Serengeti ecosystem. You will likely encounter thousands of gazelles and hundreds of elands on the eastern plains during the wet season.
During the wet season, the eastern plains play host to a somewhat separate population of the wildebeest migration that can increase to hundreds of thousands in number. You will likely encounter thousands of wildebeest from the GOL Kopjes, east through Angata Kiti and into the Salei Plains by the active volcano Mount Lengai. The Salei Plains receive the least amount of rainfall in the Serengeti ecosystem. However, when the Salei plains do receive enough rain to produce fresh green grass, massive wildebeest herds will congregate here. It is not uncommon to see two or three hundred thousand wildebeest on the Salei Plains when they are green. The wildebeest prefer the fresh green grass on these eastern plains, as they are closest to the volcanic highlands that produced the nutrient rich and fertile soils millions of years ago. This is an extremely beautiful and remote area of the Eastern Plains, and if you are adventurous enough to visit, you will be rewarded with the best off the beaten track game viewing available in Northern Tanzania.
Gol Kopje Cheetah (Please Caution)
You are allowed to drive off the road in the GOL Kopjes, but please always remain a respectable distance away from Cheetahs, especially if they look to be hunting, there is a kill, or if there are cubs present around. Cheetahs are extremely fragile and will often abandon an uneaten gazelle or even their own cubs if they are harassed by an over eager vehicle. Please do not urge your driver to get too close, as he is always striving to impress you, and by doing so may unintentionally stress these wonderful animals.
SAMETU MARSH & KOPJES
NAABI HILL, GOL KOPJES
BARFAFU GORGE & KOPJES
SOIT LET MONTONYE
LEMUTA HILL & WATERHOLE
NASERA ROCK & ANGATA KITI
SALEI PLAINS & MT. LENGAI
The eastern plains of the Serengeti ecosystem encompass a massive area. They begin roughly just east of Naabi Hill. They extend east through the Gol Kopjes, Lemuta Hill, Nasera Rock, Angata Kiti, the Salei Plains and all the way to the Ngorongoro Highlands and the active volcano Mount Lengai. This area is approximately 50 miles wide from west to east. The southern border of eastern plains is roughly Olduvai Gorge and the northern border reaches into the Loliondo game controlled area.
The eastern plains are similar to the southern plains in that they are extremely seasonal. During the dry season, the eastern plains are transformed into a semi desert and only a few hearty Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelles survive. However, the eastern plains come to life in the wet season from about November through May and offer prolific wildlife viewing for certain species of animals. A day trip at the minimum should be included in every green season itinerary.
The Gol Kopjes, located on the Eastern Plains, boast the highest concentrations of cheetahs in Africa during the wet season. The majority of the cheetahs in the Serengeti are migratory in that many of them follow the Thomson’s gazelle migration to the eastern short grass plains during the wet season, and then back to the Central Serengeti (plains/woodland border) during the dry season. During the wet season, the eastern plains offer the best cheetah viewing in the Serengeti and in all of Africa. On a full day game drive to the GOL kopjes, you will likely encounter several groups of cheetahs. Cheetahs are strictly diurnal (daytime) hunters and with a little luck you will witness the fastest land animal in the world in action.
In addition to cheetahs, the eastern plains are home to the largest concentrations of hyenas during the green season. Large clans of hyenas numbering up to 30 individuals are regularly spotted from Naabi Hill east through the Gol kopjes and Lemuta Hill. Hyenas, the most abundant predator in the entire ecosystem, are semi-nomadic and ‘commute’ to the Eastern Plains during the wet season from their den sites located in the Central Serengeti. Lion numbers are also high on the eastern plains during the wet season. The majority of the lions in the Serengeti are resident but a significant portion is nomadic (roughly 20%) who follow the migratory animals to the plains each wet season. However, lions are rarely encountered east of Lemuta and they are much more readily seen inside the Serengeti, including the Gol Kopjes area.
The Thomson’s gazelle and eland migration differs from the wildebeest and zebra migration in that these animals utilize the eastern plains much more than the southern plains of the Serengeti ecosystem. You will likely encounter thousands of gazelles and hundreds of elands on the eastern plains during the wet season.
During the wet season, the eastern plains play host to a separate population of the wildebeest migration that increase to hundreds of thousands in numbers. You will likely encounter thousands of wildebeest from the GOL Kopjes, east through Angata Kiti and into the Salei Plains by the active volcano Mount Lengai. The Salei Plains receive the least amount of rainfall in the Serengeti ecosystem. However, when the Salei plains do receive enough rain to produce fresh green grass, massive wildebeest herds will congregate here. It is not uncommon to see two or three hundred thousand wildebeest on the Salei Plains when they are green. The wildebeest prefer the fresh green grass on these eastern plains, as they are closest to the volcanic highlands that produced the nutrient rich and fertile soils millions of years ago. This is an extremely beautiful and remote area of the Eastern Plains, and if you are adventurous enough to visit you will be rewarded with the best off the beaten track game viewing available in Northern Tanzania.