The African elephant (Fig. 10) lives in the grass and bush savannas as well as in the open tree savannahs and forests. It can weigh up to six tons. Characteristic features are a long trunk, two curved tusks (upper incisors, each weighing over 20 kg) and large ears (in contrast to the Indian elephant, which has small ears).
African elephants are sociable and usually live together in small family groups of 10 to 15 animals (females and young). The family is led by the oldest elephant cow, she is considered the lead cow. Sometimes families join together to form small herds. The old bull is often a loner.
The brown hartebeest (also lighter on the belly) (Fig. 11) has a pronounced shoulder hump. Strong, inwardly curved horns sit on the long head. They live together in smaller groups of up to 15 animals.
The topi (Fig. 12) is a large and strongly built antelope species with a distinct shoulder hump. It has a red-brown fur with dark spots on its elongated face and thighs. The strong horns stand tightly and are simply curved backwards. Topis are fast runners.
The spotted hyena (Fig. 13) has a strong build, well-developed sensory organs and predatory teeth. Their fur is mottled dark. It is native to the savannah and near rock islands (Kopjes). Usually they live in pairs, but go hunting together in packs. They are hunters and scavengers who also feed on the prey remains of other animals.
The great migration of animals (“Migration”)
The Serengeti became famous not only because of its enormous animal wealth (studies estimate an animal population of around four million), but also because of the annual migration of hundreds of thousands of white-bearded wildebeest and steppe zebras. The most fascinating and breathtaking spectacle of nature – the great migration of animals (“migration”) – is determined by the regular alternation between the dry season and the rainy season (Fig. 14).
In the rainy season (November to May) hundreds of thousands of animals populate the savannas in the south and southeast of the Serengeti. This is where the calves are born in February, when everything is green and there is enough food.
In May / June, when the dry season (June to October) begins and the savanna grass has been eaten, the wildebeest, zebras, gazelles and antelopes in particular gather. United in huge herds, they migrate northwest to Lake Victoria and north to the Masai Mara Reserve, where they cross the national borders with Kenya. The animals always move to where they can find enough food.
The return migration from the north and northwest begins in September / October. The wildebeest form miles of marching columns, the zebras and gazelles loosened up herds. They all migrate back to the savannah areas of the Serengeti and populate them again in large numbers from November, the beginning of the rainy season. They stay here until May of the following year, when they begin their great annual migration again.
The Serengeti ecosystem
The Serengeti National Park forms the center of a huge ecosystem (Fig. 15). As in many national parks on different continents, the wild animals cross the narrow national park boundaries on their hikes. This is what happens in the Serengeti. The huge herds move twice a year (on their outward migration and on their return migration) across the national park borders, in the northwest to Tanzanian protected areas and in the north to Kenya and later back again.
Numerous scientists from all over the world fought to expand the national parks so that the animals can go on their hikes undisturbed. Two German scientists have made a special contribution, Prof. Dr. Dr. BERNHARD GRZIMEK and his son MICHAEL GRZIMEK.
As early as 1957, the animals were observed and counted from the air during their migrations in order to get a precise overview. They wrote their world-famous and later also filmed book “The Serengeti Must Not Die”. During the shooting of this film, MICHAEL GRZIMEK had a fatal accident with his plane (on January 10, 1959). To commemorate him and his father, a small pyramid-shaped monument was erected on the edge of the giant crater Ngorongoro.
Today, the Serengeti ecosystem includes several adjacent protected areas (Fig. 15). There are the Mazwa Game Reserve (approx. 2200 km²) and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (approx. 8200 km²) in the south and south-east, the Grumeti monitoring area (approx. 3000 km²), the Ikorongo monitoring area (approx. 3000 km²) and the Masai Mara game reserve in Kenya (approx. 1600 km²) as well as the Loliondo surveillance area in the east (approx. 4000 km²). The Serengeti ecosystem covers a total of around 36800 km². It is a unique paradise for animals worldwide.
Many consider the Serengeti to be the most beautiful animal paradise on earth. Maintaining and protecting this is only possible through international cooperation. In 1981 the Serengeti was declared a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.