The urgent need to protect the Serengeti’s intricate web of life

The vast and varied ecosystem of thousands of plant and animal species is a place of astonishing resilience but needs the support of Kenyans and Tanzanians to survive.

Tire tracks left by tourist-filled safari vehicles etch a dusty expanse where lions rest in Tanzania’s Hidden Valley. It’s March, and these apex predators have fed well on wildebeest herds calving nearby—the newborns are especially vulnerable. Later in the year, when the herds have followed the rains north in search of better grazing, lions here struggle to find enough prey, and some inevitably starve to death. It’s the boom-and-bust cycle of the Serengeti region that predators of the plains live and die by.

In the popular imagination, the Serengeti ecosystem is an ancient African landscape of sweeping golden plains, unchanged for eons. Towering giraffes move gracefully in step. Elephant herds wade through waves of grasses. Lions chase down spiral-horned antelope in gory hunts. Zigzagging lines of wildebeests and zebras are perpetually on the move. And the people who live in the Serengeti, the Maasai and others, if they are acknowledged at all, are generally portrayed as exotic figures clinging stubbornly to archaic pastoral traditions.

These representations bear some likeness to the actual place, but they fail to capture the complexity of a vast ecosystem that ranges from northern Tanzania to southwestern Kenya and is home to thousands of plant and animal species. Even the name, Serengeti—believed to come from the Maa word for “endless plain”—is deceptive. The Serengeti is many landscapes, including savanna, woodland, and riverine forests.

It’s a place like no other on the planet, with the last thriving populations of some animals. And it’s a place where humans have lived in balance with animals since the beginnings of our species. But some of the animals that we have come to know so much about—and many others that remain mysteries—are at risk of disappearing as we humans increasingly lay claim to their habitats and heat the climate.

Read This Next

Their house has stood 130 years. A new fire era may change that.
Tree-planting projects abound. Which should you support?
A revolutionary team of climbers makes history on Everest

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet