Spotting the Big 5 of Serengeti National Park

If you’ve been dreaming of a close and personal experience with Africa’s Big Five, then head for the Serengeti National Park, famous for its yearly migration of up to 200,000 zebra, 300,000 Thompson’s gazelle, and 1.6 million wildebeest. Located in the Mara and Simiyu regions in northern Tanzania, the country’s oldest park, as well as being a UNESCO heritage site, is home to one of the highest variety of wildlife on the continent and noted for its prides of lions and elephant herds. Additionally, the park boasts giraffe, cheetah, antelope, and up to 500 species of birds, such as crowned cranes, ostriches, marabou storks, lovebirds, and many species of vulture.

The sheer scale of this expansive wilderness and few tourists on game drives provides visitors with an amazing opportunity to enjoy the coveted sightings of Africa’s unique creatures on an unparalleled safari experience. 

What are the Big Five?

The term Big Five was first used by hunters for the most dangerous animals in Africa to hunt on foot: buffalo, lion, rhinoceros, elephant, and leopard. They carry the power to evoke a sense of awe, and you’ll feel a tingle of excitement shivering down your spine as you gaze upon these magnificent animals. Due to the large and healthy ecosystem of the Serengeti, the park is able to sustain their populations in its 5,700 square miles.

Masai lions

As a result of the vast savannas and plenty of prey, the Serengeti holds the largest population of lions in Africa, numbering 3,500 in 300 prides. Visitors may even come across the Super Pride relaxing on large granite outcrops, known as kopjes. They comprise of 22 members, and their territory occupies the open plains between the Seronera River and the Naabi Gate.

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African leopard

Though difficult to find, leopards are present throughout the park, and they number about one thousand. It can be a great experience to track down these mysterious and elusive predators that love their solitude. However, the Seronera Valley is abundant with them and if you know where to look, you can spot these beautiful cats resting in the kigelia or acacia trees.

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African bush elephant

The herds of African bush elephants live mainly in the northern regions of the park, traveling in herds of up twenty-four members. According to Tanzania National Parks, the latest aerial survey of the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem in 2014 counted 7,535 individuals in the area, compared to 3,419 in 2006. Although this is a significant increase, poaching, in general, has had a tremendous hit on Tanzania’s elephant population, which dropped from 109,000 in 2009 to 51,000 in 2015.

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Eastern black rhinoceros

This rare species is usually found near kopjes in the middle of the park. Spotting a black rhino in the Serengeti can be challenge, but you could be lucky when you’re with an expert guide. Sadly, there are very few black rhinos as a result of the rampant poaching, and the eastern black rhino is one of the most endangered subspecies of the black rhino. There are only 700 that remain in the wild, and approximately 70 inhabit the Serengeti National Park.

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African buffalo

African buffaloes, also known as Cape buffalo, thrive in healthy numbers, up to 62,000 individuals according to the latest 2104 census. Intimidating and aggressive, the African buffalo is considered one of Africa’s most dangerous animals, especially when wounded. A male can weigh up to one ton and boast a pair of horns 42 inches across.

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When to visit the Serengeti

You can view the wildlife in the Serengeti throughout the year. Also remember to wear the right clothes and shoes for a safari, and bring a pair of binoculars.

June – October: general game viewing

February: wildebeest calving

February – May: bird watching

December – July: wildebeest migration, crossing the Mara River into Kenya by August

Enjoy your wildlife encounters with the Big Five in the Serengeti!


Author Bio: Lisa is an avid and extensive traveler. Having visited over 20 countries across 6 continents, she now calls Seattle, USA, home and writes for Travoge. Travoge is one source destination for all things African safari

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