It is hard to imagine a more appropriate name than Serengeti, from the Maasai word meaning ‘endless plains’. Russet and green grasses and trees spread like a sea beyond each distant horizon. Although this is the most famous and well-visited of all the Tanzanian National Parks, it remains a land of surprises and unexpected discoveries. Its vast expanses often appear to be havens of peace and quiet from a distance, and then reveal themselves to be alive with wild, expectant or predatory energy when scrutinised at all.
The Serengeti National Park is one of the most celebrated wildlife reserves in the world. Some credit for such wide acclaim must go to the Kenyans for so diligently promoting their own tiny corner of it, but the recognition it receives from nearly every wildlife filmmaker, the Frankfurt Zoological Society, tourists and the Tanzanians themselves has ensured a conscientious approach to preserving and restoring this stunning tract of land in as close to a natural state as possible. The Serengeti covers nearly 15,000 square kilometres of magnificent Tanzanian land, and its rolling miles of short grass plains provide an exceptional landscape for wildlife viewing. This land is justifiably famous for its huge concentrations of wildlife, especially the big cats, as well as for being the stomping ground of the great Migration, a massive accumulation of 1ð million wildebeest, 200,000 zebras and 350,000 gazelles, stretching their legs over 1,200 miles in an annual race to find enough water and green grass for their survival.
Serengeti National Park – History
A sign hangs in an entrance gate to the Serengeti proclaiming, ‘This is the world as it was in the beginning’. While it is hard not to romanticise the likelihood of this claim when alone among its vast ancient boulders strewn between land and sky, this single expanse of world has had its fair share of history. Around two hundred years ago these wide plains, the realm of various pastoral nomad tribes, became Maasailand, or ‘Seringit’, as the Maasai called it, as the tribe swept in southwards from Kenya. The Maasai lived at one with the natural order, and created their homes from the wood and mud of the land. Armed only with a spear at the best of times, they made little or no adverse impact on the environment, killing only the odd lion in a show of bravery or for self-protection.
The first organized safaris began here in the 1920s, when international professional hunters became aware of the rich game pickings and forged routes in. Rumours of the large population of lion brought the area to the attention of the world, and in 1929 the central section of the present park, around the Seronera Valley, became a full game reserve. In 1950 the Serengeti was made a closed game reserve, in which certain species were fully protected, and a year later it was established as a National Park. Until 1959 this included the Ngorongoro Highlands and crater, but these were then sectioned off as a conservation area and used to re-house any Masaai remaining within the Serengeti’s boundaries. Its perimeters were also extended to the north and south, after the importance of these areas as the path of the annual migration were highlighted by the head of the Frankfurt Zoological Society, Professor Bernard Grzimek.
The Serengeti National Park is broadly divided into three distinct areas, the Seronera Valley and Seronera River, the Western Corridor and the Northern ‘Lobo’ area that extends northwards to join the Maasai Mara. There is always plenty of resident and migratory wildlife action, and endless photo opportunities for the snap-happy.