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About the Parks Visited by Education on Safari for Veterinary CE

Serengeti National Park

The area known as the Serengeti National Park has been protected since 1929 and became a park in 1951. It is the site of one of the world’s most epic wildlife migrations. In late July through August or September, thousands of wildebeest trek from their grazing lands in Kenya’s Maasai Mara south across the Mara River in northern Tanzania. Their destination is a region of the southern Serengeti ecosystem called Ndutu, where they will calve in February before gradually making their way north again. The park measures 14,763 square kilometers, with several distinct regions and a wildly varying topography. We will spend time in at least three of these regions, beginning with an area of the northern Serengeti near the Mara River on the Kenyan border. This is one of the most stunningly beautiful areas of the Serengeti, and during the months of October and November, large numbers of wildebeest are moving out of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya, across the Mara River, and back into the Serengeti. Or at least, that’s the hope. Where the large herds of wildebeest are at any one time depends on the rain and weather patterns, and varies by several weeks each year. Leopards and lions are frequent sightings here, along with elephants, hyena, zebra, jackals, giraffe, gazelles, impala, klipspringer, and hundreds of species of birds. A few lucky visitors have even seen rhinoceros here, but those sightings are rare.

Toward the center of the Serengeti is an area known as Seronera, which contains some of the most prolific wildlife of the park. The trees along the Seronera River are home to one of the world’s largest concentrations of leopard. There are several different areas with large granite formations, known as kopjes, and lions are frequently found around these. South of the Seronera River lie the Serengeti Plains, which are particularly good for cheetah.

Ngorongoro Crater and Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA)

The Ngorongoro Crater lies within the 8,288-square-kilometer Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), a UNESCO World Heritage Site between the Great Rift Valley and the Serengeti. The Ngorongoro Crater is the remains of a volcanic mountain, nearly the height of Kilimanjaro, that imploded between two and three million years ago. It is the world’s 6th-largest caldera, and the world’s largest intact caldera, providing a natural sanctuary for a dense population of mammals, estimated to be between 25,000 and 30,000. Of particular note are the elephants here that possess massive tusks, thought to be a result of the high phosphorus content within the crater. There is a viewpoint at the top of the crater that enables viewers to appreciate the beauty and enormity of the caldera. Our trip down to the floor of the crater starts very early in the morning in hopes that we see some of the wildlife that is more active at night. Viewing wildlife within the crater is enhanced by the striking backdrop of a 2000-foot-high wall. There are distinct and diverse areas within the crater, including Lake Magadi, a shallow alkaline lake where flamingo feed during the dry season; the Lerai Forest with large acacia trees known as yellow fever trees; a permanent hippo pool at Ngoitokitok springs; and enormous areas of open grassland that support large concentrations of wildebeest and zebra, along with Cape buffalo and numerous other herbivorous species. Lions are often seen here and there is a resident population of leopard and cheetah, although sightings are infrequent. This is the area where we are most likely to see black rhino. There are fantastic areas for birding here as well, with species such as the kori bustard (supposedly the world’s heaviest flying bird), ostrich, and African crowned crane.

The enjoyment of this area does not end with the crater. The NCA is the eastern continuation of the Serengeti. In the eastern portion of the NCA are the lush Crater Highlands with several mountainous peaks and smaller calderas. The west is dryer, sparsely wooded plains that are contiguous with the Serengeti. We will visit cultural sites, including Oldupai Gorge and one of the area’s many Maasai villages, as well as continued observation of wildlife.

Tarangire National Park

Although the 4,000-square-kilometer Tarangire is a less well-known park, it frequently becomes the favorite of visitors to northern Tanzania. Tarangire National Park has a wildlife migration of its own, with many of the 25,000 wildebeest, 30,000 zebra, and several thousand elephants dispersing during the rainy season, and then concentrating again in huge numbers along the Tarangire River during the dry season months of July through November. At one recent count, Tarangire had up to 3,000 elephants, and seeing large herds of elephants is a big reason to include this park. Lions are viewed frequently along the river. There is a broad range of habitat including swamps which feed the Tarangire River, grassland plains, acacia woodland, and more open woodland dominated by enormous baobab trees, many of which are several hundred years old. With over 500 species of birds, Tarangire is a birdwatcher’s paradise.