About the Serengeti
Ecosystem | Animals | The Great Migration | People
The Serengeti region encompasses grasslands and plains, rivers and forest, active volcanoes and rocky outcroppings known as kopjes. The entire ecosystem stretches across more than 6 million acres and is home to some of the largest grazing herds in the world. Protected areas offering a refuge for wildlife include Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Maswa Game Reserve and the Loliondo, Grumeti and Ikorongo Controlled Areas as well as Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve.
The best-known predator of the Serengeti plains, African lions hunt animals such as zebras, antelope and wildebeest. These large carnivores can reach six feet in length and weigh up to 500 pounds. Lions live in prides of 3–30 members. These groups are led by a single male, and females share responsibility for hunting and rearing cubs.
Lion populations are in decline throughout Tanzania, and the species may soon be declared threatened by the International Union of Concerned Scientists.
View African Lion factsheet
African Painted Dogs
Able predators, and extremely endangered, African painted dogs roam the savanna in packs of 2–30 members. By hunting as a group, the pack is able to prey on much larger animals, including gazelles, impalas and zebras. African painted dogs packs are highly social, with a strict dominance hierarchy and a number of display behaviors that reinforce group cohesion. Only the dominant male and female are allowed to produce pups; other group members help feed and care for new arrivals.
View African painted dog fact sheet
Important members of the ecosystem, wildebeest constantly trim the vegetation as they graze, maintaining Serengeti National Park’s broad grasslands. A sudden increase or decline in their numbers could alter the landscape drastically enough that new diseases might emerge, prompting new threats to the Serengeti’s wildlife. Wildebeest support numerous species of carnivores, including lions, African wild dogs, jackals, cheetahs, leopards and more.
Domestic dogs are owned by people around the borders of the park, who use them for hunting and protection. Dogs are fed and cared for by their owners, but they are not allowed to live inside their owner’s homes. As a result, dogs often travel far from their homes, wandering across park boundaries onto protected land. There they can come into contact with wild animals, facilitating the spread of disease.
Cattle and Goats
In addition to farming, many people living near the borders of Serengeti National Park raise cattle, goats and other livestock for subsistence. Because livestock have high economic value, it is important that they remain well-fed and healthy. It is illegal to graze herds of domestic cattle and goats within the park, but grazers often take their herds there to find the most nutritious food. Shared land-use by wildlife and domestic animals can potentially spread disease between each.
The Great Migration
Serengeti National Park and surrounding areas are home to one nature’s most awe-inspiring displays. Each year, vast herds of hoofstock thunder across the plains, with more than 2 million wildebeest, half a million gazelles and a quarter-million zebras migrating in search of fresh food and water.
During the winter rainy season, the hoofed herds gather on the grassy plains of the southern Serengeti, where females give birth to calves and the herbivores graze on plentiful food. As water becomes scarce in late spring, the herds head north in groups numbering in the hundreds of thousands, moving over the plains and storming across rivers and other obstacles in their path.
The animals continue to migrate north through the Serengeti during summer, leaving dry grasslands behind them. The wildebeest, gazelles and zebras reach their furthest-north point, Kenya’s Maasai Mara Game Reserve, in fall, at which point they rest for a month or two before heading south again. By traveling throughout the larger Serengeti ecosystem, these animals can make the most efficient use of its resources.
While Serengeti National Park is reserved solely for animals, many people make their homes in villages on the outskirts of the park. Area Foragers, farmers and pastoralists from a variety of groups—Hadzabe, Iraqw, Kuria, Maasai, Sukuma—share this space, using the land to feed themselves and their families.
Outside the park, the human impact varies widely. On the east end of the park, the Ngorogoro Conservation Area has established a limited footprint of wildlife and grazing cattle. The park’s unprotected west end is more developed, with agriculture predominant and native wildlife rare.
As the boundaries between village, savanna and parkland lessen, domestic animals, particularly dogs, can spread disease between protected and non-protected land. By vaccinating dogs against rabies, parvovirus and distemper, the Serengeti Health Initiative secures the health of people, pets and predators, preserving an entire ecosystem.