image:  The sun sets over Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.
The sun sets over Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.

Photograph © Charles and Josette Lenars/CORBIS

By Richard Leakey

It is not a place but many places, linked in a vast natural ecosystem where great herds of wildlife have annual migrations, taking care of their feeding needs over the changing seasons. To the north, the Masai Mara in Kenya; to the west, Lake Victoria; to the east, the soda lakes of the Great Rift Valley; and to the south, the circular ramparts of incredible Ngorongoro Crater and the forest-clad highlands of northern Tanzania. Few places that I know have the same impact; for me, this area within its vastness represents the most special destination. I reach for words: spectacular, thrilling, awesome, beautiful, extraordinary.

I am fortunate to have had the chance to spend time as a teenager exploring the Serengeti, long before there were roads and game lodges. My parents, Louis and Mary, spent many years from the mid-1950s through the 1960s working at the famed Olduvai Gorge, where they searched for traces of our earliest ancestors. While they excavated in the hot sun, we boys were free, more or less, to enjoy the Serengeti's amazing opportunities for adventure.

The great migrating herds of wildebeests and zebras are probably the single most impressive sight, although the endless plains, fantastic clouds, and kaleidoscope of natural colors are pretty hard to best. Early in the year, usually late February, early March, the plains near Olduvai and Ngorongoro Crater are green with fresh grass and bright with wildflowers. Rainwater collects in clear reflecting pools and several hundred thousand wildebeests drop their calves.

There is constant movement, all day, all night. The animals are noisy, but it is a concert—the grunts of the gnus, the high-pitched bark of the zebras, the songs of the grasshoppers and cicadas, the roar of the lions, and the excited laughs of the feeding hyenas. The birds, all sizes and brilliant colors, singing and feeding, add richness and fine texture to the grand stage. Sound and activity are everywhere. The ground seems to be alive. It invigorates and recharges the spirit of our humanity right at its ancient roots.

The sounds, the smells, the changing light, the constant theater of primal Africa—the whole powerful experience of the Serengeti always remains vivid in memory. As a teenager I witnessed Masai warriors spearing lions in revenge for attacks on their precious cattle, and I watched lions disemboweling unlucky warriors. I marveled at the speed of the cheetah, I saw lions hunt and rhinos fight, I rescued orphaned wildebeests, and I was horrified by the savagery of hunting packs of hyenas.

What can compare with such a place? Whichever part of the greater Serengeti you visit, be it Kenya's Masai Mara or the great plains of Tanzania beyond the 2,000-foot-high walls of Ngorongoro Crater, the spectacle is superb, and with roads, lodges, and camps, anyone can share it, but be careful: Don't drive off the roads, don't frighten the animals, and hire tour guides who behave accordingly. Be kind to the Serengeti; listen to its systems, respect its bounty, and leave it as you find it.

The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published, but we suggest you confirm all details before making travel plans.



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