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Hakuna Matata - A Safari in Kenya & Tanzania

Nairobi Amboseli Masai Lake Manyara Serengeti Ngorongoro Tarangire Arusha Family Fun Home

Animals of the Serengeti

Endless plain
Serengeti is a Maasai word that means 'endless plain'
The Serengeti National Park is the largest wildlife sanctuary in Tanzania. It encompasses 14,763 km² between the Ngorongoro and the Kenyan/Tanzanian border at Lake Victoria. Serengeti is famous for its wildebeest migration at the beginning of the long dry season, around May or June.

Every year in June, the wildebeest gather into huge herds that migrate to Kenya
Since our visit takes place in February, we know beforehand that we will not be witnesses to the wildebeest trek. But even without that spectacle, Serengeti is a must-see.

LizardAgama lizard
Male agama lizards are very colorful
The Ngorongoro reserve borders on the Serengeti National Park. We cross the boundary between the two parks
Look out
The Naabi Hill offers a vantage point to look out across the Serengeti plains
late afternoon. At Naabi Hill Yahaya has to fulfill some formalities before we are allowed to enter and the short hike up the hill to a lookout point is a welcome diversion from the continuous drive in the van. Close to the top I stop and squint at a rock. Did someone dump a purple rubber lizard on that rock? Just as I am about to complain to Magiel and Dana about the carelessness of some people, the rubber lizard moves! It's alive!
The breath-taking view from my room in the soft light of morning (top) and the harsh afternoon (bottom)

The name Serengeti is derived from the Maasai language, and means 'endless plains'. The Maasai sure have a knack for naming landmarks; a huge part of the Serengeti NP is indeed an endless plain. Grassland, as far as the eye can see, and often dotted with black specks that are grazing animals: zebra, gazelles, antelopes, wildebeest, buffalo, topi.
While the female in the left two pics poses patiently, the male to the right grows irritated when we want to pass

While on our way to the Sopa Lodge, our home for two nights, we stop several times to watch animals. A couple of lions lie close to the road and a pregnant giraffe waits patiently while we take a picture. A young male is less patient and gets irritated when
Lions usually sleep during the day and hunt around dusk and dawn
we wish to use the same stretch of road as it does. It runs ahead of us for a
Elephant crossing the road
An elephant's tusks continue to grow during its lifetime
few meters, then disappears into the undergrowth to the side of the road.

The next morning Yahaya warns us not to expect too much that day. Most animals, he says, are grazing in the short grass outside the gate. We will see them tomorrow, when we do a game drive en route to Ngorongoro. Today we will explore other parts of the extensive ecosystem of the Serengeti.

As if to prove him wrong, we stop ten minutes into our game drive to watch two female lions close to the road.
Drivers inspecting the road
Driver Yahaya and his colleague inspect the road to see if it's passable
Because it's early in the morning and all the vans are leaving the lodges, soon several cars are clustered close to
Serengeti has numerous different ecosystems, each with its own vegetation
the lions. They decide that enough is enough and they move off into the long grass that hides them perfectly.

If this is a slow day, animal-wise, I wonder what a busy day will be like. There is no time for boredom, there is something new to see every few minutes. Female ostriches grooming themselves, flamingoes in a small pool, and a young male elephant that can't make up its mind whether to be annoyed by our presence or not. Trunk raised in the air it deliberates. Finally, the giant decides it's too hot to be bothered and returns to plunder the brush.
White flamingos at lake's edgeFemale ostrichesGroup of hippos in a pool
It is impossible to grow bored in the Serengeti; there's something new to see every few minutes.
Left to right: flamingos, female ostriches, hippos

The buffalo are as curious about us as we are about them
A herd of buffalo crosses the road in front of us. The animals are wary of the man-made trail and quicken their gait to gallop across the track. As soon as they reach the grass on the opposite side, they slow down and turn to catch our scent. The buffalo can weigh up to 775 kgs; they measure about a meter and a half at shoulder height. They can be seen in mixed breeding herds, like the one crossing the road, in small groups of bulls, or even alone. Buffalo will work together to drive lions away.

Elephants beneath acacia treeElephants beneath sausage tree
During the hottest time of day, the elephants search out the shade of acacia or sausage trees
It's amazing how much noise a group of a dozen grazing elephants can make: bushes rustle, branches snap, teeth gnash on grass. During the hottest hours of the day the large animals will huddle together in the shade of an acacia 'umbrella' tree, or cool off with mud from one of the numerous small puddles.
Muddy elephant
Mud also helps to keep cool

The hippopotamus seek shelter from the sun in a pool. They are lazing in the water, barely moving, and look for all the world like a low, rocky island.

Hyrax on path
Hyraxes are the nearest living relative to the elephant, believe it or not
An exciting moment happens when we discover a leopard sleeping in the crook of a tree. It is the fourth animal of the Big Five that we see, and we can add another notch on the yardstick. When we can also add dikdiks, vultures and maraboes, a hyrax, a chameleon and dozens of colorful birds to our list of 'animals seen' we are quite satisfied with the day.

The short grass plains

When changing color, chameleons move slowly and jerkily
The short grass plains mark the transition from the Ngorongoro highlands to the pastures of the Serengeti. They are popular with a large variety of grazers. Dominant among them is the wildebeest. Over 1.3 million of the bearded gnus live on the Serengeti grounds. The wildebeest is exceptionally well adapted to the environment. It has a wide row of incisor teeth that enables it to harvest more grass than any other grazer. However, a large concentration of the animals will quickly exhaust a pasture.

Grant's gazellesTopiZebra
Nearly 200,000 Burchell's zebras, over a quarter of a million Thomson's and Grant's gazelles as well as ostriches, eland, topi, hartebeest feed on the short grass plains
Left to right: Grant's gazelles, topi, zebra
We visit the short grass plains the next morning, when we do a game drive on the way back to Ngorongoro. Again, the sheer numbers of animals we can see at any given time is staggering. Birds of various species, dozens of storks among them, and we wonder if some of them come from Holland. Grazers, big and small. It is no wonder that we see so many of the grass eaters, their numbers measure in the hundreds of thousands.

BirdsVultures in treeBirds
Over 500 species of birds can be seen in Serengeti
Left to right: Blackheaded weaver, vultures, Rüppell's long-tailed starling
Then, something moves on the horizon. At first, to our unexperienced eyes, it looks like a thick brush with lots of
Ostrich chicks
Ostriches creche their young together into flocks of up to 60 chicks
sticks jutting up. Yahaya, on the other hand, recognizes it as a group of ostrich chicks. Baby ostrich? How can there be so many of them! Yahaya explains that each male will herd several females to a nesting hollow, where they will lay up to 30 eggs. Only one female, the major hen, will incubate the eggs along with the male. The chicks are in a state, since their parents and caretakers are on the other side of the road and they are afraid to cross. They continue to run up and down on the plain, never breaking formation, even long after we have passed.
Thomson gazelles
Thomson gazelles, affectionately called Tommies, bounce away at our approach
Thomson's gazelles are high on a lion's menu
Giraffes need trees to browse; you won't see them on the open plains, even though it looks that way in this picture
Kirk's dik-diks are very small gazelles (4-5 kgs); their noses are elongated and very mobile
Female cheetah are always solitary; they are amazingly fast, a chase can reach up to 100 kphs but can be kept up only for short stretches
Lazy lion on rockLazy lion on rock
When the hunting and eating is done, it's time for nap; with the sun on its back this lion looks as content as any house cat
Jackal in the grass
The black-backed jackal is a nocturnal animal but can be active during the day; it eats virtually any food including carrion
Kopjes consist of very hard and ancient granite rock; the rocks also trap water so vegetation is lush
Watering hole
Wildebeest and zebra need to drink regularly


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