Introduction to the Serengeti Plains – the realm of tooth and claw
Neither style of campsite is fenced, so wildlife comes and goes. As a result the Serengeti's campsites are notorious for nocturnal visits by lions. The lions are generally just cautious, so the rule is to stay calm and whatever you do do not leave your tent.
Rough Guide to Tanzania 2007
Imagine reading that while settling down for the night in your flimsy tent on the Serengeti.
The Serengeti Plains are one of the most extraordinary places I have ever visited. There is a sense of adventure here as if you have moved away from human civilisaton and have entered the realm of tooth and claw. You are no longer the top predator – you are actually at the bottom of the food chain. The sheer scale of animals here is extraordinary. - the sheer size of the National Park is more extraordinary. It covers fourteen thousand square miles. The ecosystem it contains spreads out from the park into Ngorongoro and up into Kenya with the Masai Mara. Animals in their millions move during the migration.
Only about a third of the park is made up of the flat grassy plains that it is so famous for. During January and February – wildebeest, zebra and antelope in their million (and for 2008 it was estimated at exactly two million) make their way down from Kenya. The plains between Naabi Gate in the southeast and Seronera in the middle of the park are rich in grazing at that time of year. Its at exactly at this time of year they foal – millions of ungulates giving birth at the same time. The theory behind this is that predators that will be so glutted with easy food the majority of foals will be left alone. The cycle begins again in May when the grasslands are grazed to the bone and the herds begin their trek slowly northwards again.
When I travelled throgh the plains it was the dry season and the herds were up in Kenya. But there was still plenty to see. For a start there is a sense of space to these plains that is breathtaking. Flat as a pancake and dry as a bone. The grass there had been bitten down to its roots and looked brittle and delicate. Dust devils swirled as we drove past and once in a while we passed Kopjes - islands of rock in the endless plains that are often the abodes of prides of lions. For the plains arent empty even in the dry season – we saw Grants gazelles and a Serval shot across the road. Lone hyenas can be seen in the distance fanning out from their clan burrows. One big surprise was seeing a Wild Cat prowling the side of the road. It looked just like a domestic tabby – although a hundred times wilder.
A word must be said for the roads into the Serengeti – they are truly appalling. It took us four hours to cross from Naabi Gate to our campsite. They are riddled with potholes and lose scree and only a four-wheel drive will do. They fit the description "axel-breaking" because we did see vehicles laid up on the side of the road after attempting this trail. So it is best to see the Serengeti on an organised tour. We did meet a couple doing a ‘Cape to Cairo’ roadtrip and they were unimpressed by the Serengeti due to the state of the roads, high price of admission and lack of game. Thats why you need a guide to take you into Seronera where the game hides out when it is the dry season. The entrance fee is exorbitant ($50 per person plus 10,000 schillings per vehicle and that is not counting accomodation). So it is best to join an organised tour in Arusha where such practicalities are taken care of for you.
I think the Serengeti is well worth all the inconvenience. Its one of those places on the globe where you have to pinch yourself you are there. The wildlife you see there is amazing and proves that Africa is addictive. Whether you are watching snorting hippos, prancing Impala or the famous lions – you will want to go back. I can guarantee...