The National Parks of Tanzania


Possibly the best known game park in the world, the Serengeti IS “Africa” to many, many people.  That stark, solitary acacia, umbrella branched canopy in silhouette, against the endless sky and the horizon-to-horizon grasslands…that is Serengeti.

Swahili for “endless plains,” Serengeti is the southern, Tanzanian, continuation of Kenya’s Masai Mara and, together with it, creates the scene of the annual clockwise foraging journeys of gnu and zebra known as The Migration.  For 5,700 square miles Serengeti is home to prey (zebra, gun, gazelle and antelope) and predator (lion, leopard, cheetah, jackal and hyena), in fact this may be the best place in Africa to see lion.

Ground travel to the Serengeti is from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (the north border with Kenya’s Masai Mara has been closed by road for some time now)  and as soon as you’ve left the volcanic highlands you know you’re in a different world.   Crossing into the park through the Naabi Hill Gate the koppis (or kopjes) pop out at you almost immediately.  A tumble of erosion smoothed boulders, the koppis are the tips of buried rock mountains the Serengeti plains grew up around.  Little oases of elevation and scrub greenery, they’re a favorite vantage point for lions and a cool hiding place for the lone impala buck.

We weren’t 15 minutes into the park when our driver somehow spotted movement maybe 500 yards ahead in the tall grass (driver guides have exceptional vision – it took us several minutes to see what he was looking at even after it was pointed out).  A mother cheetah with four young, maybe month-old cubs, was beginning her hunt.  She moved swiftly, soundlessly, ignoring us but totally focused on a tiny band of gazelles further on.  Not wanting to disrupt her concentration we held back.  Cheetahs work hard for each meal, only eating what they’ve killed, and this young mother had a larger than usual litter.  As we turned to drive away, we surprised a Kori bustard, Africa’s largest bird that can fly, who was airborne in just a few short strides.

Sunlight plays over the grasslands, every minute the scene changes.  The land is alive, pulsating and vibrant.  We fully recognize that we’re visitors here, silent observers, safe in the pop-top Land Cruiser.  Asking our guide how long a person on foot would last out here alone he stated chillingly, “Not even one night.”  Serengeti National Park is another World Heritage Site and rightly so…these places need protecting, not just for the animals…but as a place to remember that humankind doesn’t own and control everything.  Nature is, at best, on loan and our responsibility to leave the way we found.  Serengeti is the kind of place where thoughts such as these seem to come naturally.  We hope that will always be true.