Serengeti : Africa’s Endless Plains

Wildebeests run across the plains of Serengeti during their annual migration. (sanjay austa austa)

Wildebeests in  Serengeti during their annual migration, Tanzania


The story first appeared in Mail Today, Jun 2014

It’s never a good idea to visit a wildlife sanctuary  just before a trip to  Serengeti. Despite its  herds of forest elephants,  wallowing hippos and  velvet monkeys, Lake Manyara National Park, which is  usually the first on the safari itinerary into Tanzania,  failed to woo our attention. We just wanted to get it over with quickly so we could  get to Serengeti fast.

But the boundaries in the African bush  overlap , confuse and  remain undefined. That’s especially true of  Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Serengeti, all abutting each other on the westward journey into Tanzania.

On the face of it, with its short grass and broad plains, Ngorongoro Conservation Area is much like Serengeti.  However,   you know you are in Serengeti when the road goes on and on endlessly. Soon there is just you, the flatness and the low horizon. In the far distance, on  either side of the smooth dirt road, you see the lolling hills that  fade into the sky. The few acacia trees scattered about look as desolate as the safari jeeps.

Lions are not good climbers but they do manage to climb to the lower-branches. The trees provide them good shade as well as good view of prey animals for miles in the savanna plains. (sanjay austa austa)

Serengeti Lions, Tanzania

The grass, green from the recent rains, was too short to hide any animal but we may have raced 50 kilometers, may be a 100, but did not see a single wild creature.  This is just as well. Serengeti covers a mammoth  14763 square kilometers and has room enough for the thousands of animal  and bird species that spread luxuriously about its plains.

But when the herds begin to appear there is no ending.   Miles upon miles in every direction, the wildebeests and zebras, the  two species that intersperse  casually with   each other,  dot the  vast ‘endless plains’ (Swahili for Serengeti). Just like anyone else, I  was there for the big cats and to tick off from my list the African Big Five.  Eventually,  however,  it is the big herds that hold you spell bound.

 The  chorus of the grunts and neighs broken only by the  thunder of hooves are  but primeval sounds from a land where the oldest of our own ancestors emerged  over two  hundred thousand years ago. And for all those years it has remained much the same save for the ochre-colored dirt- road slicing through the expanse.

The lioness gives chace to the Zebra. From this angle it looks as if she almost got the zebra but there is a distance of almost 10 feet between them.. (sanjay austa austa)

A lioness leads the attach on the unsuspecting zebra, Serengeti, Tanzania.

It had begun to rain, which made  the wildebeests more skittish and  grunt more urgently.  With their awkward gallop they dashed across the road more on impulse than design, sometimes racing right in front of a moving jeep, offering us a minor sample of their river-crossing spectacle during their annual migration.

Of course the  Serengeti Lions command awe too but unlike the ungulates  the only movements they allow  is the swishing of their tails which briskly  wards  off  flies in their somnolence. The lions hunt in short bursts at night and spend much of the day – sometimes over 18  hours- just sleeping.  Therefore we were incredibly lucky to spot lions not only awake but hunting- a moment any wildlife filmmaker would give an arm or leg for.

At first , by the golden light of the setting sun, we saw only one lioness crouched low in the short savanna  grass. She was staring right ahead at a lone  zebra. After a while we spotted two others lionesses, camouflaged perfectly, flanking the animal.  The zebra  could not see the lions but it was upwind  and had smelt the predators. It perked its ears and moved forward gingerly to investigate.

We saw a male Thomsan's gazelle run across the road from the clutches of this Cheetah. This Cheetah had apparently exhausted itself after a chase and was cooling its heels before springing a fesh chase. (sanjay austa austa)

This Cheetah walks off after an unsuccessful chase, Serengeti , Tanzania

A lioness closest to the zebra exploded from the grass. From our jeep it looked a certain kill but the Zebra at first startled, soon gained momentum and was out of reach.  Having lost the hunt the lioness rose sheepishly from their hunting place.

The next morning, the lions, perhaps from the same pride, had brought down a fully grown giraffe. By the time we reached,  the spot was  swarming with safari jeeps. The lions had had their share and were indolent again.  They regarded their arch enemies – the  hyenas,  who had now claimed the carcass, with only passing  curiosity.

Rarer still is a leopard sighting and we were lucky not only to see one emerge from the grass but grunt and call for its cub which dutifully came and was led to the shelter of a nearby acacia tree.

As it happened our Safari guide cum driver lost his way around the Serengeti and could not find the camp. We were supposed to be in the camp at 6: 30 but it was already 7 pm and dark and we were still looking for ways to get to the camp in Serengeti. We came across this hungry pride of lions on the road. The lions hunt at night and these lions probably were just starting to go out to hunt. (sanjay austa austa)

The lions hunt at night and these lions probably were just starting to go out to hunt, Serengeti, Tanzania

The Savannas are made for the cheetahs. A cheetah race is a blink- and -you -miss -it affair and we missed our scene by a whisker.  A cheetah, just vanquished and spent in a race was being seen off by a herd of  Thomson’s gazelles.

Last but not the least we saw the Maasai- the African tribals that have  lived in harmony with the animals for millennia. But since their forcible evacuation over the last 30 years from Serengeti, they present the same sort of problems that the forcible evacuation of tribals from Indian National Parks present in India. Unable to rehabilitate in their new surroundings the Maasai are routinely hired by poachers.  Some have moved to the cities where they are hired as night watchmen.

The baboon are hairy and spectacular monkeys to take photographs of. They have this massive black snout and piercing eyes and they look direct at you as they walk by. Their hairy body makes their eyes pop out more piercingly. (sanjay austa austa)

Baboon, Serengeti, Tanzania.


This animal is what makes Serengeti what it is. Whatever you hear of Serengeti comes alive on the thunder hooves of these weird looking yet amazing animal. Its quite a feeling to see stretched for miles and miles herds of these animals grazing in the Serengeti. (sanjay austa austa)

Wildebeest is the animal  what makes Serengeti what it is.  Serengeti, Tanzania


This was a female leopard and it had killed an impala the previous night. It hung on a tree half-eaten. In the morning it was calling out to its cub it had hidden in the grass so that it could lead him to the kill. The leopard found the cub after a lot of calling and walking about the safari vehicles. (sanjay austa austa)

Leopard sightings are rare in Serengeti. This one was a female leopard calling out to her cub, Tanzania.


A female Hyena, Serengeti, Tanzania. This female crossed our Safari vehicle with two small hyena cubs. The female is larger than the male and has a outgrowth of a clitoris that almost looks like a penis. I guess an essential pre-requisite even for a matriarchal society like the hyenas. (sanjay austa austa)

A female Hyena in Serengeti.  The female is larger than the male and has a outgrowth of a clitoris that looks like a penis. I guess an essential pre-requisite even for a matriarchal society like the hyenas, Tanzania

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