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Stretching from northern Tanzania to southwestern Kenya are the plains of the legendary Serengeti. In the native Massai language, Serengeti aptly means “Endless Plains.”

Unlike other parts of the Africa, the Serengeti managed to avoid European colonization due to the fierce tribes of Maasai that roamed these lands since ancient times. While they were known as fierce warriors, the Maasai actually had an aversion to eating wild game and subsisted almost exclusively on their domesticated cattle. But the rinderpest epidemic and droughts of the late nineteenth century devastated the populations of both the Maasai and the indigenous wildlife. By the mid-twentieth century, drought and fires (both natural and human-caused) reduced forestation across the plains and further encouraged the growth of grasses. But as the populations of the plains game rebounded in the after 1970, native Acacia trees have begun to recapture some territory.

As host to the largest mammal migration in the world, the Serengeti’s diverse ecosystems are today home to more than just great herds of blue wildebeest. Innumerable gazelle, zebra, and buffalo also graze the grasslands along with notable numbers of elephant and giraffe. Not far behind the migrating herds are the Serengeti’s predators, most notably lion but also including leopard, cheetah, jackal, hyaena, aardwolf, and serval cat.

At the height of the seasonal migrations, over one million wildebeest are on the move, joined by hundreds of thousands of zebra, buffalo, and gazelle. A remarkably synchronized calving season occurs annually between January and March, and once it begins the wildebeest give birth to over 500,000 calves within the span of three weeks! The exact timing of the annual migration is somewhat unpredictable. Generally, around October to December the herds descend from the northern hills to the southern plains following the rains. Sometime from April to June they begin their return trek northward, crossing the crocodile-infested Mara River between July and September.

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