Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

July 13, 2012, 8:10 am
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Serengeti National Park, Tanzania Photograph by John Morrison

Serengeti National Park (1°30'-3°20'S, 34°00'-35°15'E) is a World Heritage Site located in Tanzania. Twice a year ungulate herds of unrivaled size pour across the immense savanna plains of Serengeti on their annual migrations between grazing grounds. The river of wildebeests, zebras and gazelles, closely followed by predators are a sight from another age: one of the most impressive in the world.

Geographical Location

Between the Great Rift Valley and Lake Victoria in northern Tanzania, 200 kilometers (km) northwest of Arusha. It is contiguous in the north with the Maasai-Mara National Reserve in Kenya which it parallels along the border; on the northeast with the Loliondo Game Controlled Area; on the south east with Ngorongoro Conservation Area, on the southwest with Maswa Game Reserve and by the Ikorongo-Grumeti Game Controlled Area in the west: 1°30'-3°20'S, 34°00'-35°15'E.

Date and History of Establishment


caption Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. (Photograph by John Morrison; Source: WWF)


  • 1929: Serengeti Game Reserve declared (228,600 hectares (ha)) to preserve lions, previously seen as vermin;
  • 1940: Declared a Protected Area;
  • 1951: Serengeti National Park created; boundaries modified in 1959;
  • 1981: Recognised as part of the Serengeti-Ngorongoro Biosphere Reserve;


1,476,300 ha. With Ngorongoro it comprises a Biosphere Reserve of 2,305,100 ha and with the adjacent Maasai-Mara, Loliondo, Maswa and Ikorongo-Grumeti reserves, the area all together is larger than Taiwan.

Land Tenure

Government. Administered by the Tanzanian National Parks Authority.


920 meters (m) to 1,850 m.

Physical Features

The immense plains of Serengeti stretch 150 km south from the Kenyan border and 100 km east almost from the shore of Lake Victoria. They are a west-sloping surface of weathered ash from the Ngorongoro volcanoes covering mainly crystalline rock and pimpled with low outcrops of granite (kopjes). In the northeast and along the western corridor are low lightly wooded mountain ranges of mainly volcanic origin. In the center the savanna is crossed by the Grumeti and Mbalageti rivers which usually contain water. In the south are open grass plains. The Mara river crosses the northwest corner and there are several lakes, marshes, and seasonal waterholes all over the Park.


The mean annual precipitation varies from 1,150 millimeters (mm) in the northwest, 950 mm in the western corridor to less than 500 mm in the lee of the Ngorongoro Highlands in the east. It falls mainly between October and May with peaks in November (the short rains) and from March to April (the long rains). The annual drying up in May triggers migration north; the rains which start in October trigger the returning migration south. Generally it is warm and dry, coolest from June to October, with a mean annual temperature of 20.8°C, which is often less than the diurnal variation.


This is one of Africa’s most complex and least disturbed ecosystems, alternating between dusty summer drought to green winter and spring lushness. Its center is savanna with scattered acacia; to the south are wide open shortgrass plains; to the north are thornwood long grasslands, along the rivers, gallery forest and in the hilly western corridor extensive woods and black clay pans.

On the undulating open plains short grass is the major vegetation. The plains become almost desert during severe drought and are prone to wildfires, which the short grass can tolerate. This is the major wet season habitat of the migrating ungulates. Dominant species are couchgrass Digitaria macroblephara, Sporobolus marginatus and S. kentrophyllus - indicators of overgrazed and saline soils. The invasive poisonous Mexican poppy Argemone mexicana may be starting to spread from Ngorongoro. In wetter areas are sedges such as Kyllinga nervosa. There is extensive acacia woodland savanna in the center stretching east from Ikoma and some gallery forest along the rivers. Lowland woodlands include Commiphora africana, whistling thorn Acacia drepanolobium, A. gerrardii and Balanites aegyptiaca. Upland woodlands are of red thorn Acacia lahai and gum acacia A. seyal



caption This wild dog is antagonizing a group of wildebeest that are standing in a defensive circle. Only large packs can take down adult wildebeest, but small packs often target the vulnerable calves. (Photo taken by Adrian Bailey; Source: Davidson University)


The park is best known as the ecosystem with the greatest concentration of large mammals in the world, both grazers and browsers, and the carnivores which live off them. Many of these migrate between seasonal water sources and grasslands, starting in May and June from the central plains to the western corridor and then northwards, becoming more dispersed between July and November. The annual migration is described in the Serengeti Regional Conservation Strategy. It is dominated by wildebeest Connochaetes taurinus in enormous numbers, which numbered ~190,000 in the 1950s, some 1.69 million in 1989, but 1.27 million in 1991; also by zebra Equus burchelli (some 200,000),Thomson's gazelle Gazella thomsoni, with some eland Taurotragus oryx and topi Damaliscus lunatus, each harvesting the grass most suited to it. The herds are followed by prides of lion Panthera leo (VU) numbering up to 3,000 individuals, spotted hyena Crocuta crocuta, striped hyaena Hyaena hyaena, golden jackal Canis aureus, side striped jackal C. adustus and black-backed jackal Canis mesomela. The last packs of wild dog Lycaon pictus (EN) disappeared in 1991. A rabies epidemic killed three of the packs, but there is no agreement on the full cause of the disappearance.

There are large herds of antelope of many species. On the grasslands are eland, lesser kudu Tragelaphus imberbis, roan antelope Hippotragus equines, oribi Oreibia oreibi, Grant's gazelle Gazella granti, hartebeest Alcelaphus buselaphus, steenbock Raphicerus campestris, topi and oryx Oryx gazella, also buffalo Syncerus caffer. In the woodlands are warthog Phacochoerus aethiopicus bushbuck Tragelaphus scriptus, sitatunga T. spekei, grey duiker Sylvicapra grimmia, impala Aepyceros melampus and Kirk's dikdik Madoqua kirkii. In the swamps are reedbuck Redunca redunca and waterbuck Kobus ellipsiprymnus. Among the kopjes are klipspringer Oreotragus oreotragus as well as giraffe Giraffa camelopardalis and olive baboons Papio anubis; and on the mountains, mountain reedbuck Redunca fulvorufula.

Other characteristic larger mammals are leopard Panthera pardus, cheetah Acinonyx jubatus (VU), caracal Felis caracal, elephant Loxodonta africana (EN) estimated to number 1,357 in 1994, black rhinoceros Diceros bicornis (CR:there are very few left), hippopotamus Hippopotamus amphibio and giraffe. Smaller mammals include numerous species of bats, bushbaby Galago crassicaudatus, vervet monkey Cercopithecus aethiops, patas monkey C. aethiops, black and white colobus monkey Colobus guereza and olive baboon, aardvark Orycteropus afer, ground pangolin Smutsia temminckii, cape hare Lepus capensis, porcupine Histrix indica, three species of hyrax and many other rodents, bat-eared fox Otocyon megalotis, two species of otter, ratel Mellivora capensis, zorilla Ictonyx striatus, common genet Genetta genetta, large spotted genet Genetta tigrina, African civet Civetticis civetta, seven species of mongoose, aardwolf Proteles cristata, serval Felis serval, golden cat Felis aurata, African wildcat Felis lybica and bushpig Potamochoerus larvatus. Reptiles include crocodile Crocodylus niloticus, Nile monitor lizard Varanus niloticus, African rock python Python sebae, blacknecked spitting cobra Naja nigricollis and puff adder Bitis arietans.

Over 500 bird species include 34 raptors, 6 vultures, and aggregations of over 20,000 waterbirds. There are ostrich Struthio camelus, marabou stork Leptoptilus crumeniferus, lesser flamingo Phoenicopterus minor, African fish eagle Haliaeetus vocifer, tawny eagle Aquila rapax, lesser falcon Falco naumanni (VU), secretary bird Saggitarius serpentarius, Francolinus rufopictus, helmeted guineafowl Numida meleagris, crowned crane Balearica regulorum gibbericeps, kori bustard Choriotis kori struthiunculus, blackwinged pratincole Glareola nordmanni, blackwinged plover Vanellus melanopterus, Caspian plover Charadrius asiaticus, whitewinged black tern Chlidonius leucoptera, Fischer's lovebird Agapornis fischeri, Verreaux's eagle owl Bubo lacteus, yellowbilled barbet Trachyphonus purpuratus, southern ground hornbill Bucorvus leadbeateri, greycrested helmet shrike Prionops poliolophus, Karamoja apalis Apalis karamojae (VU), redthroated tit Parus fringillinus and several of restricted distribution such as rufous-tailed weaver Histurgops ruficauda.

Cultural Heritage

The Serengeti and Maasai Mara were open grasslands free from tsetse fly, the eastern half of which were from the middle of the 19th century a part of the Maasai nomadic cattle herding system. These are the largest ethnic group of pastoralists in East Africa, whose cultural code precludes eating wild animals so that their rangeland was used by both livestock and wildlife. This, with the tsetse-conveyed sleeping sickness, preserved the vast herds until invaded first by a rinderpest epidemic from Asia in the 1880s which led to severe losses of wildlife and domestic livestock and caused much of the human population to abandon the area, and then by mechanized hunting.

Local Human Population

There is no resident human population but the Maasai occupy the eastern frontiers of the park. The area to the west of the park is densely settled by a growing population of farmers and herders. Population growth on this frontier is 4% per year. The population in the surroundings of Serengeti increased by about 54% during the period 1967-1978, and the population in the seven districts to the west of the park reached a total of 1,733,958 in 1988. Agriculture is the main source of income, but many people are attracted by the wildlife and the touristic opportunities of the Park.

Visitors and Visitor Facilities

Tourist facilities include lodges at Seronera, Lobo, Kirawira, Klein's Camp, Banagai, Turner Springs, Seronera, Nyaruboru and Ndutu and some hotels. There are also 70 campsites in the Park. Six access routes exist, but usually access is by road from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. There are several airstrips and an airfield at Seronera. In 1983, the lowest number of visitors (18,602) since the 1950s was recorded, following several years of isolation because of the closed border with Kenya. The reopening of this border in December 1983 increased visitor numbers and figures from the Serengeti Regional Conservation Strategy show that visitation rose from 11,000 to 40,000 between 1985 and 1991. Following improvements to the infrastructure, Serengeti between 1998 and 2000 attracted 310,550 visitors: 198,206 foreigners and 112,238 Tanzanians.

Scientific Research and Facilities

Serengeti National Park with Ngorongoro is one of the least disturbed and best studied areas in Africa and has been the center for major research for 30 years. The Serengeti Wildlife Research Institute (SWRI) has a research center at Seronera which has well-equipped laboratories, a library, herbarium and accommodation for visiting scientists. Projects during the 1990s included continuing long-term research on ecosystem processes, the behavioral ecology of lion, leopard and ungulates, mongoose population dynamics and reproduction and the ecology of dung beetles and termites. A program on the behavior and ecology of the African wild dog used radio-collaring techniques to monitor 22 dogs. But when the wild dog population disappeared from the park in 1991, controversy erupted over whether the stress of fitting the dogs with radio-collars had caused them to disappear . A number of externally funded scientists conduct research at the SWRI. The Tanzania Wildlife Conservation Monitoring (TWCM) has taken over the long term ecological monitoring program, and carries out regular aerial surveys and wildlife censuses. The Park in the 1950s, was well publicized by Dr. Bernhard Grzimek who made extensive aerial wildlife surveys and an influential film, Serengeti Shall Not Die.

Conservation Value

Serengeti National Park, with its immense herds of ungulates and their associated predators, is the last remnant of a Pleistocene large-mammal savanna ecosystem in all its complexity. The Park, with the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the Maasai Mara Park, is large enough to ensure its survival.

Conservation Management


caption Lions (Panthera leo), Tanzania. (Photograph by David Olson; Source: WWF)


The annual migration of the ungulate herds between their feeding areas extends in a circular movement from the Serengeti via the Grumeti-Ikorongo, Maasai Mara, Amboseli, Loliondo and Ngorongoro reserves back to the Maswa Serengeti plains following rain-fed pastures, making each an important part of the whole ecosystem. In 1951, the original boundary of the National Park included land to the south and east of the present park and the Ngorongoro Highlands. Pastoralism and cultivation by the Maasai were allowed to continue until 1954 when it was felt that this was incompatible with resource conservation, and the park was divided into the present day Serengeti National Park, and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The National Park was set aside strictly for wildlife conservation and tourism, and human access was restricted.

The preservationist approach to protected areas management slowly changed through the 1980s and 1990s. The IUCN in collaboration with the Norwegian Development Agency (NORAD) developed the Serengeti Regional Conservation Strategy for the Park. Phase II started in 1989 with the drafting of a Conservation and Development Plan, planned and executed with the local people. The overall goal is to change the approach of the management and use of the Serengeti from the traditional exclusion of local communities to one reconciling the needs of human development in the region with conservation. It was recognized that wildlife is an important economic resource for rural communities around the park. It is hoped that schemes where local communities are given legal rights to manage the wildlife around their villages will obviate the present unsustainable levels of poaching. Buffer zones have been selected where wildlife can be managed by the local people, and village Wildlife Committees are supervising conservation activities. The Serengeti Regional Conservation Strategy also includes programs to stabilize land use, and plans to channel more of the money earned from tourism in the park back into the communities. The park administration works with the village authorities to resettle encroachers and re-mark the boundary. Grumeti Game Controlled Area was incorporated in the park for greater control of the area.

Management Constraints

The human population to the west of the park has expanded rapidly over the past 30 years, wildlife and livestock populations have grown, and demand for land is high. Grazing land is becoming scarce as pasture land is converted into cropland. Local people are vulnerable to external development and large scale agricultural schemes which do not benefit local communities. Open land ownership has also resulted in local people over-exploiting common resources. Agriculture has encroached on park boundaries and former subsistence poaching has now become large-scale and commercial. An estimated 200,000 animals are killed annually, resulting in large falls in the numbers of several species: warthog, giraffe, eland, topi, impala and buffalo. The rhinoceros have been decimated. The rise in demand for meat has been partly driven by the growing local population and in-migration as wildlife and fuelwood is depleted elsewhere. The need for bushmeat has also been exacerbated by the relatively low contribution that tourism has made to the local economy and the resulting antagonism felt by the excluded local population. However, government control over the Park has improved since the 1970s.

Hunting permits in the Controlled Game Areas are granted at the discretion of senior government officials. Nevertheless, a hunting lease in the Loliondo Game Control Area next to Serengeti which was granted to a Brigadier of the Dubai Army has attracted controversy. The lease is an exclusive permit for ten years and takes advantage of the migratory patterns of wildlife coming out of the park. Reports on the first season noted wide use of machine guns and the taking of non-game species. The concession may have severely impacted wildlife in the area. At one time the Serengeti was not inhabited by elephants, but cultivation and settlement outside the park resulted in a change in their distribution. The combination of elephant, uncontrolled fires and subsequent browsing and stunting of regrowth by giraffe has caused a decline in woodlands. There has also been some tree cutting in small areas on the west and north-west boundaries. In 1994 an epidemic of canine distemper virus killed 30% of the Serengeti and Masai Mara lions, and the disappearance of the wild dog population in 1991 may have been accelerated by rabies spread via domestic dogs. Approximately 30,000 domestic dogs live in the area, most of which are not vaccinated, creating a large reservoir of diseases. Mass vaccinations of domestic dogs for distemper and rabies around the park started in December 1996 to create an infection-free buffer zone on the western boundaries of the park. A new threat is the Mexican prickly poppy Argemone mexicana which rapidly invades overgrazed land, crowding out both crops and the native plants which are needed to sustain the existing patterns of wildlife.


A staff of over 180 includes 35 in administration (many of whom trained at the College of African Wildlife Management at Mweka and/or the University of Dar es Salaam), 80 anti-poaching staff, one chief park warden and five park wardens (undated information).


1977: Tanzanian Shs.2,752,100 (approximately equivalent to US$314,000) including grants from external sources. No recent information.

IUCN Management Category

  • II (National Park)
  • Biosphere Reserve
  • Natural World Heritage Site - Criteria iii, iv; inscribed in 1981

Further Reading

Over 300 papers have been published by Centre/SRI research workers and others in scientific journals, and several popular books are also available.

  • Belsky, A.J (1987). Revegetation of natural and human-caused disturbances in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Vegetation 70(1): 51-60.
  • Borner, M., Fitzgibbon, C.D., Borner, M., Caro, T.M., Lindsay, W.K., Collins, D.A. and Bristow, M. (1996) Dog jabs to save lions BBC Wildlife 14(12):p61.
  • Campbell, K. and Hofer, H. (1993) Humans and Wildlife: Spatial Dynamics and Zones of Interaction in Sinclair, A.R.E. and Arcese, P. (1993) Serengeti II: Research, Management and Conservation of an Ecosystem. Draft copy. ISBN: 0226760324.
  • Caro, T.M. (1970). Map of the Serengeti National Park and surrounding area. ARUSHA: SRI and Hunting Technical Services.
  • De Wit, H.(1977). Soil Map of the Serengeti Plain. Appendix: Soils and Grassland types of the Serengeti Plain (Tanzania). Thesis, Landbouwhogeschool, Wageningen 1978.
  • Dye, C. (1996) Serengeti wild dogs: what really happened? Trends in Ecology and Evolution 11(5):188-189.
  • East, M.L. and Hofer, H. (1996) Wild dogs in the Serengeti ecosystem: what really happened Trends in Ecology and Evolution 11(12):509.
  • Fishpool, L.& Evans, M.(eds) (2001). Important Bird Areas for Africa and Associated Islands. Priority Sites for Conservation. Pisces Publications and Birdlife International, Newbury and Cambridge, U.K. BLI Conservation Series No.11. ISBN: 187435720X.
  • Grzimek, B. (1960). Serengeti shall not die. Hamish Hamilton, London. ISBN: 0345236203.
  • Herlocker, D.J. (1976). Woody vegetation of the Serengeti National Park. College Station, Texas A & M University. ISBN: 0890961956.
  • Holt, M.E. (1987). The decline of the Serengeti Thompson's gazelle population. Oecologia (Berlin) 73(1): 32-40.
  • IUCN (1994). Monitoring of the State of Conservation of Natural World Heritage Properties. World Heritage Committee 19th Session, Phuket, Thailand.
  • IUCN/WWF Project 1931. Tanzania, Anti-poaching equipment for National Parks.
  • Jager, T. (1979). Soil of the Serengeti Woodlands, Tanzania Agricultural Research Report 912: 1-239. PUDOC, Wageningen.
  • Kreulen, D.A. (1975). Amphibians and reptiles of the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Bulletin de la Societe Zoologique de France 100(4): 673-674.
  • Kruuk, H. (1969). Interaction between populations of spotted hyena Crocuta crocuta and their prey species. In: Watson, A. (Ed.) Animal populations in relation to their food resources. Oxford. ISBN: 0632062207.
  • Kruuk, H. (1972). The spotted hyaena. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  • Lamprey, R. (1995) The management of sport hunting in Tanzania Swara 18(2)
  • Leader-Williams, N., Kayera, J.A. and Overton, G.L., Eds. (1996) Community-based conservation in Tanzania. IUCN Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. ix + 266pp. ISBN: 283170314X.
  • Makacha, S., Msingwa, M.J. and Frame, G.W. (1982). Threats to the Serengeti herds. Oryx 16(5): 437-444.
  • Morell, V. (1995) Dogfight erupts over animal studies in the Serengeti Science 270(5240): 1302-1303.
  • Murray, M. (1992) Wanderlust BBC Wildlife 10(6):24-27.
  • Packer, C. (1996) Who rules the park? Wildlife Conservation 99(3):36-39.
  • Pearsall, W. (1957). Report on an ecological survey of the Serengeti National Park, Tanganyika. Fauna Preservation Society, London.
  • Roelke-Parker, E.M., Munson, L; Packer, C., Kock, R., Cleaveland, S., Carpenter, M., O' Brien, S.J., Pospoischil, A., Hofmann-Lehmann, R., Lutz, H., Mwamengele, G.L.M., Mgasa, M.N., Maschange, G.A. Summers, B.A. and Appel, M.J.G. (1996) A canine distemper virus epidemic in Serengeti lions (Panthera leo) Nature 379(6564): 441-445.
  • Ruess, R.W. and Halter, F.L. (1990). The impact of large herbivores on the Seronera woodlands Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. African Journal of Ecology 28(4): 259-275.
  • Said, M.Y., Chunge, R.N., Craig, G.C., Thouless, C.R., Barnes, R.F.W., Dublin, H.T. (1995) African elephant database, 1995. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland, 225 pp. ISBN: 283170295X.
  • Schaller, G.B. (1972). The Serengeti Lion. University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London. ISBN: 0226736407.
  • Schaller, G. (1999). Golden Shadows, Flying Hooves. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. ISBN: 0002162644.
  • Schmidl, D. (1982). The Birds of the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. BOU Check-list No. 5, SRI Publication No. 225. British Ornithologists' Union, London.
  • Schmidt, W. (1975). The vegetation of the northeastern Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Phytocoenolgia 3(1): 30-82.
  • Serengeti Regional Conservation Strategy (1992) Project co-ordination unit and district support programme. Project proposal prepared for the Minstry of Tourism, Natural Resources and Environment Wildlife Division supported by NORAD. Unpublished document, 40 pp.
  • Serengeti Wildlife Research Centre (1993) Scientific Report 1990-1992 Serengeti Wildlife Research Centre.
  • Sinclair, A.R.E. (1977). The African buffalo: a study of resource limitation of populations. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. ISBN: 0226760308.
  • Sinclair, A.R.E. and Norton-Griffiths, M. (1980). Serengeti: Dynamics of an Ecosystem. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. 389 pp. ISBN: 0226760294.
  • Stronach, N. (1988). The management of fire in Serengeti National Park: objectives and prescriptions. Tanzania National Parks. 38 pp.
  • Stronach, N. (1990). New information on birds in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club 110(4): 198-202.
  • Wit, H.A. de (1977). Soil map of the Serengeti Plain. Appendix "Soils and grassland types of the Serengeti Plain (Tanzania)". Thesis, Landbouwhogeschool, Wageningen 1978.

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.




M, U. (2012). Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Retrieved from


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