The Serengeti National Park is the most famous National Park in Tanzania and part of the Serengeti ecosystem in the Mara and Simiyu regions. It is famous for its annual migration of over 1.5 million wildebeest and 250,000 zebra and for its numerous Nile crocodile and honey badger.
The Maasai people had been grazing their livestock in the open plains of eastern Mara Region, which they named "endless plains," for around 200 years when the first European explorer, Austrian Oscar Baumann, visited the area in 1892. The name "Serengeti" is an approximation of the word used by the Maasai to describe the area, siringet, which means "the place where the land runs on forever".
The park is Tanzania's oldest national park and remains the flagship of the country's tourism industry, providing a major draw to the Northern Safari Circuit encompassing Lake Manyara National Park, Tarangire National Park, Arusha National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. It has over 2,500 lions and more than 1 million wildebeest.
Tanzania Horizon Safaris offers Serengeti Safaris in a large variety of days and in combination with Safaris to Tarangire, Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara and as part of the Big Migration Safari.
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The park covers 14,750 square kilometres (5,700 sq mi) of grassland plains, savanna, riverine forest, and woodlands. The park lies in northwestern Tanzania, bordered to the north by the Kenyan border, where it is continuous with the Maasai Mara National Reserve. To the southeast of the park is the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, to the southwest lies Maswa Game Reserve, to the west are the Ikorongo and Grumeti Game Reserves, and to the northeast and east lies the Loliondo Game Control Area. Together, these areas form the larger Serengeti ecosystem.
The park is usually described as divided into three regions:
Serengeti plains: the almost treeless grassland of the south is the most emblematic scenery of the park. This is where the wildebeest breed, as they remain in the plains from December to May. Other hoofed animals - zebra, gazelle, impala, hartebeest, topi, buffalo, waterbuck - also occur in huge numbers during the wet season. "Kopjes" are granite florations that are very common in the region, and they are great observation posts for predators, as well as a refuge for hyrax and pythons.
Western corridor: the black clay soil covers the savannah of this region. The Grumeti River and its gallery forests is home to Nile crocodiles, patas monkeys, hippopotamus, and martial eagles. The migration passes through from May to July.
Northern Serengeti: the landscape is dominated by open woodlands (predominantly Commiphora) and hills, ranging from Seronera in the south to the Mara River on the Kenyan border. Apart from the migratory wildebeest and zebra (which occur from July to August, and in November), this is the best place to find elephant, giraffe, and dik dik.
Human habitation is forbidden in the park with the exception of staff for the Tanzania National Parks Authority, researchers and staff of the Frankfurt Zoological Society, and staff of the various lodges, campsites and hotels. The main settlement is Seronera, which houses the majority of research staff and the park's main headquarters, including its primary airstrip.
The park is worldwide known for its abundance of wildlife and high biodiversity. The migratory -and some resident- wildebeest, which number over 2 million individuals, constitute the largest population of big mammals that still roam the planet. They are joined in their journey through the Serengeti - Mara ecosystem by 250,000 plains zebra, half a millionThomson's and Grant's gazelle, and tens of thousands of topi and Coke's hartebeest. Masai giraffe, waterbuck, impala, warthog and hippo are also aboundant. Some rarely seen species of antelope are also present in Serengeti National Park, such as common eland, klipspringer, roan antelope, bushbuck, lesser kudu, fringe-eared oryx and dik dik.
Perhaps the most popular animals among tourists are the Big Five, which include:
Lion: the Serengeti is believed to hold the largest population of lions in Africa due in part to the abundance of prey species. More than 3,000 lions live in this ecosystem.
African leopard: these reclusive predators are commonly seen in the Seronera region but are present throughout the national park with the population at around 1,000.
African bush elephant: the herds have recovered successfully from population lows in the 1980s caused by poaching, numbering over 5,000 individuals, and are particularly numerous in the northern region of the park.
Eastern black rhinoceros: mainly found around the kopjes in the centre of the park, very few individuals remain due to rampant poaching. Individuals from the Masai Mara Reserve cross the park border and enter Serengeti from the northern section at times. There's currently a small but stable population of 31 individuals left in the park.
African buffalo: the most numerous of the Big Five, with around 53,000 individuals inside the park.
Carnivores - aside from the Big Five - include the cheetah - which is widely seen due to the abundance of gazelle -, about 4,000 spotted hyena, two species of jackals, African golden wolf, honey badger, striped hyena, serval, seven species of mongooses, two species of otters and the recently reintroduced East African wild dog. Apart from the safari staples, primates such as yellow and olive baboons and vervet monkey, patas monkey, black-and-white colobus are also seen in the gallery forests of the Grumeti River. Other mammals include aardvark, aardwolf, bat-eared fox, ground pangolin, crested porcupine, three species of hyraxes and cape hare.
Serengeti National Park has also great ornithological interest, boasting about 500 bird species, including Masai ostrich, secretarybird, kori bustards, helmeted guineafowls, southern ground hornbill, crowned cranes, marabou storks, yellow-billed stork, lesser flamingo, martial eagles, lovebirds, oxpeckers, and many species of vultures.
Reptiles in Serengeti National Park include Nile crocodile, leopard tortoise, serrated hinged terrapin, rainbow agama, Nile monitor, chameleons, African python, black mamba, black-necked spitting cobra, puff adder.
Since 2005, the protected area is considered a Lion Conservation Unit together with Maasai Mara National Reserve and a lion stronghold in East Africa.