The Serengeti ecosystem is a geographical region in Africa. It is located in north Tanzania and extends to south-western Kenya between. It spans some 30,000 km2 (12,000 sq mi).
The Serengeti hosts the largest mammal migration in the world, which is one of the ten natural travel wonders of the world.
The region contains several national parks and game reserves. Serengeti is derived from the Maasai language, Maa; specifically, "Serengit" meaning "Endless Plains".
Widely recognised as the major wildlife reserve in the world, the Serengeti National Park is, simply put, a vast natural paradise. The park includes, besides the Serengeti National Park, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the Maswa Game Reserve, the Loliondo, Grumeti and Ikorongo Controlled Areas in Tanzania, and the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. Actually the second is a more appropriate figure to consider, as there are no fences along the different park borders, and animals can freely move from one to another.
Its extensive grassland plains spotted with acacia trees are home to the largest herds of migrating ungulates and (as an obvious consequence) the highest concentrations of large predators in the world.
Wildlife numbers are impressive. A 1990 study estimated wildebeest population at a sheer 1.6 million, Thomson's gazelle at 440,000, zebra at 250,000, lion at 2,800, hyena at 9,000, leopard at 1,000, and cheetah at 500.
The massive population of hoofed animals, the world's largest in the wild, gives place to one of nature's most imposing events, the Great Wildebeest Migration. Every year the herbivores are forced to follow the rains in their search for water and grazing grassland, a 500km round trip from the Southern Serengeti to the northern edge of the Masai Mara National Reserve. The circular migratory route sees the animals heading North to the Masai Mara grasslands every June, after finishing the mineral-rich pastures of the northern Serengeti plains and woodlands. By October, when the rains leave the Mara for the Serengeti, the migratory animals make the reverse route, heading for the southern Serengeti plains once again.
One of the oldest ecosystems on Earth, the Serengeti has remained almost intact over the past million years. Its plains are mostly crystalline rocks overlain by volcanic ash with numerous granitic rock outcrops, known as kopjes, which are home to rich ecosystems (and where lions usually hide their cubs). In the north and along the western corridor are mountain ranges of mainly volcanic origin. Two rivers flowing west usually contain water and there are a number of lakes, marshes, and waterholes.
The grassland plains are the major type of vegetation, but become almost desert during periods of severe drought. In wetter areas, sedges such as Kyllinga spp. take over. There is an extensive block of acacia woodland savanna in the centre, a more hilly and densely wooded zone covering most of the northern arm of the park, and some gallery forest.
Protected area since 1940, the Serengeti gained national park status in 1951 with extensive boundary modifications in 1959. It was internationally recognised as part of Serengeti-Ngorongoro Biosphere Reserve (with the adjoining Maswa Game Reserve) under UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Programme in 1981 and inscribed on the World Heritage List in the same year.
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