The name 'Serengeti' comes from the Maasai language and means an 'extended place'. The National Park alone covers an area of 13 000 sq km. The Serengeti ecosystem, which includes the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the Grumeti Reserve, the Maswa Game Reserve, the Masai Mara Game reserve (in Kenya) and numerous concession areas, is roughly the size of Sicily. It lies between the shores of Lake Victoria in the west, Lake Eyasi in the south, and the Great Rift Valley to the east.
Serengeti National Park is one of the best-known wildlife sanctuary in the world, and symbolises the classic African safari. With more than 2 million wildebeest, half a million Thomson’s gazelle, and a quarter of a million zebra, it has the greatest concentration of plains game in Africa. The Serengeti is also synonymous with the annual wildebeest and zebra migration that encompasses a vast area of both the Serengeti and the neighbouring Masai Mara National Park. It is the home of the Great Wildebeest Migration for 9 months of the year.
Although outnumbered eight to one, the zebra join in the migration, maintaining their family units of about a dozen members, each with a dominant stallion. Lion, cheetah, hyena and hunting dog follow the wildebeest and zebra, making sure that only the fittest survive. In November, when the grazing is finished in the North, this army of animals surges back to the now green pastures of the south, where they calve and mate before starting the entire cycle again.Normally, the best time to see the animals here is during January and February. Heading north into the Park, the grass becomes noticeably longer, and it is usual to see Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelles, as well as the occasional small groups of topi and kongoni. Out of the vast sea of grass also rise great granite outcrops, known as ‘kopjes’, which have their own range of vegetation and wildlife. Towards Seronera, the Park headquarters, the landscape becomes more varied. Hills rise out of plains criss-crossed by small rivers. Umbrella acacia trees appear, elegant and serene, contrasting with the twisted commiphora trees.
The main rainy season, or the 'long rains', lasts during March, April and May. Afternoon downpours are the norm, which are heavier and more predictable beside the coast and on the islands. The humidity is high and daily temperatures reach the low-mid 30s (degrees Celsius). The long dry season lasts from June to October, during which time the rainfall is unusual. Temperatures vary hugely with altitude and location, but it's usually a fine, clear sky and sunny weather. During November and December there's another rainy season, which is known as the 'short rains'. These are much lighter than the long rains and less reliable. If it has rained during the short rains, then it normally dries up for a few months in January and February, which is Tanzania's 'short dry season', before starting to rain again in earnest in March.
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