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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 that 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. Migration Station 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 down. 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 their young. 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. CH-CH-CH-Cheetah 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 ants. Savanna Scenery 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. The People "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 water; * The Iraqw and the Suikuma peoples, both traditionally farming cultures; and * 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.
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Publication:Kidsworld Magazine
Date:Sep 22, 2002
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