Serengeti National park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area

20- 26 December 2020

Between Arusha and the Serengeti National Park, there are a few hundred kilometres and administrative procedures that finally allowed us to stay 2 nights at Kiboko lodge, a place already at the end of the world towards the Kilimanjaro National Park. This very short stay already offered us our first observations before the big departure. 

A wonderful place for naturalists, the Serengeti and the N'gorongoro Conservation Area are the second largest national park in Africa.

The Serengeti was established in 1951 with the aim of preserving wildlife life. This move led to the expulsion of the resident Maasai from the park in 1959. In 1981, the Serengeti National Park was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

In fact, since the colonial era, the Maasai have been expelled from a significant portion of their traditional lands, either by private farmers or through government plans or the creation of national parks. Both the Tanzanian and Kenyan governments have attempted to implement development projects aimed at changing the traditional ways of life of the Maasai and sedentarising them to respect the boundaries. These attempts have resulted in widespread poorer living conditions for the Maasai people, who previously managed their livestock effectively and, above all, maintained the savannah for wildlife through fire.

These people have lived on these lands for centuries in harmony with the wildlife and the environment and it can be argued that conservation strategies in general should include indigenous peoples rather than marginalise them as part of the ecosystem. But Western governments and big safari companies have put so much pressure on the Tanzanian and Kenyan governments, who are getting rich by the way, that 'hard-line' conservation has taken over. Moreover, conservation organisations such as the IUCN and WWF, to name only two, are not entirely innocent in the not-so-clean expropriation of indigenous peoples...

For the time being, the result of strict conservation, without humans living there permanently, is that the Serengeti is a paradise because the food chain of the ecosystem has remained untouched. Except for a few exceptions, it is not possible to walk around the Serengeti because the Lions, with at least 4000 individuals, are omnipresent. (but the Maasai have always made do...)

The vast plains of the Serengeti with over 1.5 million hectares of savannah, the annual migration of two million wildebeest, plus hundreds of thousands of gazelles and zebras - followed by their predators - in search of grazing and water offer probably the most impressive naturalist moments in the world. The Park is home to at least four globally threatened or endangered animal species: black rhino, elephant, wild dog and cheetah.

We were lucky enough to observe three individuals of the Black Rhino from a very long distance. In addition, we saw a leopard sibling, 3 cheetahs and a pair of serval at a few meters away in full display!

The fact that the park has a large complex of small and medium sized wetlands is an added value in terms of biodiversity. In winter, the wintering birds of the Paleartic are very numerous, passerines, waders, birds of prey...

In short, a minimum of 500 species of birds, sedentary, intra-African migratory and wintering, have been counted here.

This exceptional diversity attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists every year ( us included...) , which is a threat today because tourism is pushing to extend the road network and infrastructure (water, electricity) to the point of planning to cut the park by a road that will be a major source of eco-landscape fragmentation, particularly by intersecting the wildebeest's migration route.

The other threats, mainly caused by humans, are: indirectly, climate change, which implies an increase in temperature, a lengthening of the dry season and more intense rainfall, which is a source of erosion and soil scouring; and directly, a galloping demography, from 8 million inhabitants in 1961, to more than 50 million in 2015.

One wonders if the way of life of the Masai and their presence was not less harmful ... To meditate...

Logistically, we spent 2 days discovering the Ngorongoro Crater where we stayed not far from the entrance to the St Catherine Monastery http://stcatherinemonastery.org/ . The accommodation was very unusual but a nice surprise: a peaceful place, far from the tourist crowds and freshly cooked food from the sisters' garden, all for a price that defies all competition in the area.

To explore the rest of the Serengeti, at least in part, we stayed in one of the ranger quarters at Seronera TANAPA Bandas, very well equipped bungalows in the middle of the park with a small walking area. There we met, among others, some spotted hyenas, a common genet, groups of Dwarf Mongoose, Rock Hyrax and an African Great Horned Owl who came to greet us at our room's door...

 

The other visited regions:

 

Mkomazi National Park (north-east, large wildlife and birds)

Usambaras Mountains (Magamba reserve, Amani forest) and Uluguru Mountains

Mikumi National Park (large mammals in an extraordianary park...)

-Udzungwas Mountains (tropical mountain forests and surprise viper)