Go wild! Kidsworld explore East Africa's Serengeti Plains.
The Serengeti is a wondrous place filled with majestic elephants,
roaring lions and galloping gazelles. It's so marvelous, in fact,
that more than 90 000 visitors flock to the Serengeti each year to hunt
down the wild animals -- with their cameras only! -- and experience a
unique ecosystem that has barely changed in a million years.
Where Is It?
The Serengeti region is huge, spanning 30 000 km2
include the famous Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation
Area in Tanzania, the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, and several
other protected areas. Two World Heritage Sites and two Biosphere
Reserves have been established here to protect the Serengeti's
ecosystem and millions of wild animals from developers and hunters.
The Serengeti is probably most famous for the amazing migration of
animals that takes place every spring and fall. Following an ancient
instinct, more than a million wildebeests (funny-looking cow-like
animals with curved horns and shaggy beards) and 200 000 zebras herd
together and move across the Serengeti in search of water and food. In
the early 1960s, the Tanzanian government tried to put up a barbed wire fence to stop the migrating herds, but the animals just trampled it
The Wildest Animals
More than 300 species of large mammals roam the Serengeti Plains,
including gazelles, lions, leopards, hyenas, buffalo, baboons and
antelope. Here's a look at some of the most well-known.
Heard of Elephants?
The African elephant is the largest land animal on Earth, weighing
between 3000 to 5000 kg -- that's as heavy as four cars! Elephants
live in herds of 2 to 24 animals and communicate with one another by
making rumbling, trumpeting or squealing sounds. They also use their
trunks to greet each other, to show affection for a mate or to guide
Elephants were in danger of disappearing from the Serengeti in the
1970s and the 1980s. So many elephants were killed by poachers for their
ivory tusks that, by 1990, only about 500 elephants remained in the
park. Selling or trading ivory is now banned, so the elephant population
in the Serengeti has grown to more than 2000.
Another endangered species of the Serengeti is the cheetah. These fast
cats are the speediest land animal in the world. Over a short distance,
cheetahs can reach speeds of 112.63 km/h (that's faster than your
parents are allowed to drive on the highway!). You can tell them apart
from other wild cats by their long, lean body, and the "tear
drop" black mark running from the corner of each eye.
Rhino, I Know!
Rhinoceroses have also been the target of poachers. In the 1980s, all
but two Serengeti rhinos were killed. The population is starting to grow
thanks to conservation and anti-poaching efforts at the parks. Poachers
kill rhinos for their unique horns. Unlike other animal horns, which are
made of bone, a rhino's horn is similar to a mass of compressed
hair. This horn is so strong, a rhino can spear a car with it!
Now You See the Zebra ...
Have you ever wondered why zebras have stripes? Dr. Tony Sinclair, a
long-time Serengeti researcher, has studied zebras day and night and he
has found out something very interesting. A zebra's stripes make it
invisible at night -- even with "night vision" goggles.
"Zebras don't care what they look like during the day,"
says Dr. Sinclair. "Their predators, lions, only hunt at night ...
so that is the time that zebras have to be camouflaged."
Don't Hug The Trees!
Some of the unusual trees found in the Serengeti have very strange
names, such as:
* Sausage Tree -- which has long sausage-shaped poisonous fruit;
* Toothbrush Tree -- local people cut its green shoots and use them to
brush their teeth;
* Umbrella Tree -- it arches over the plains like an umbrella;
* Candelabra Euphorbia -- when a branch is broken, a toxic poison
drips out that can burn the skin; and
* Whistling Thorn -- this tree's thorns are filled with biting
The Serengeti landscape is called a "savanna," which is made
up of grasslands, woodlands, plains, marshes and small rocky hills
called "kopjes." The Serengeti savanna has only two seasons --
wet and dry. During the dry season, the hot sun can ignite a fire that
burns the grasses above the ground, but the long roots hidden in the
ground are not damaged. When the rainy season arrives, new growth
transforms the savanna with flowers, leaves and fresh grass.
"Serengeti" comes from the word "siringet," which
means "land that goes on forever" in the Maasai language. The
Maasai are perhaps the most well known people of the Serengeti because
of their colourful beaded jewelry and clothing. Other groups of ancient
peoples that live in the Serengeti area are:
* The Hadzabe, who move from place to place looking for food and
* The Iraqw and the Suikuma peoples, both traditionally farming
* The Kuria tribe, who are known for their special ear decorations.
Married men and women traditionally stretch their earlobes as big as
they can with heavy copper rings or heavy bone or wood earrings.