The Serengeti has been the home for the Maasai people for centuries and before that to various prehistoric human species.
With its large open grasslands, the Serengeti was perfect for the local people to graze their cattle. The Maasai People were known to be peaceful, with the majority of their disagreements and crimes settled with the exchange of cattle. Cattle was central to the Maasai people, with its meat, milk and even blood being used in their daily diet.
Strangely enough, even without modern dental technology available in the region, the Maasai people have some of the healthiest teeth in the world. Furthermore, when Dr. Anderson from a local hospital studied the diet of the Maasai people, he found that they were mostly disease free. This is something rare within tribes in rural areas that do not have access to modern medicine.
The first European explorer in 1882, Dr. Oscar Baumann, a geographer and explorer from Germany, was credited for finding Lake Eyasai, Lake Manyara and Ndutu. Dr. Bauman was furthermore the first person to draw a map of the area from firsthand knowledge rather than conjecture. To add to his discoveries, he was the first European to enter the Ngorongoro Crater and in 1889, he and Hans Meyer were the very first Europeans to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro.
The first hunting safari to the Serengeti region was by an American hunter with the name of Stewart Edward White. His famous expedition set off from Nairobi and he was accompanied by A.J. Cunningham, another well-known hunter and as many as 30 porters with a large retinue of donkeys. During his trek, he described the area in these words:
"Never have I seen anything like that game. It covered every hill, standing in the openings, strolling in and out among the groves, feeding on the bottom lands, singly, or in little groups. It did not matter in which direction I looked, there it was; as abundant one place as another. Nor did it matter how far I went, over how many hills I walked, how many wide prospects I examined, it was always the same. During my stay at the next two camps I looked over fifty square miles. One day I counted 4,628 head! And suddenly I realized again that in this beautiful, wide, populous country, no sportsman’s rifle has ever been fired. It is a virgin game country, and I have been the last man who will ever discover one for the sportsmen of the world. There is no other available possibility for such a game field in Africa unexplored. I moved among those hordes of unsophisticated beasts as a lord of Eden would have moved." (The Rediscovered Country, Doubleday, Page & Co, 1915)
After his stay in what is now known as the Northern Serengeti White wrote his famous book, The Rediscovered Country and this unfortunately contributed to popularizing large game hunting within the area. What followed was a massacre of animals that was rarely found anywhere else on earth.
During this period of animal slaying, lions became a prime target. Lions were often considered to be a pest within the area to locals. This resulted in many practices that are even today found distasteful within normal sport hunting communities. One of the major problems was the propensity of hunting lions while driving a vehicle and using automatic weapons. The results were that on many occasions several prides were completely annihilated by one hunter in the span of a single afternoon.
The Serengeti National Park, or Serengeti Park, of just plain Serengeti, was founded because the area had become so depopulated of lions that the British Colonial Government had to step in. The British administration, in what is now known as Tanzania, created a partial game reserve of around 3.2 square kilometers (800 acres) in 1921 and made it a full game reserve in 1929. This was the foundation of what will one day become known as the Serengeti Park, which was officially established in 1951. In 1981 it was officially designated as a Unesco World Heritage Site.
A special mention should be made of Bernhard Grzimek and his son Michael. In the 1950’s they did incredibly important documentary work on nature conservation, bringing awareness to the general populace around the world who were not aware of the various conservation issues inside the Serengeti and elsewhere. Their work along with many others, helped kick start the modern era of nature conservation. Their work also featured the Serengeti Park extensively and was the start of the fame of this amazing area.
The word Serengeti is an approximation of a Maasai word “siringet”, that describes the area. The word means “that place where the land runs forever”. When you stand on the plains of the Serengeti, you completely understand the motivation behind this word. The beautiful grasslands seem to be never ending and if you are in the right place at the right time, endless herds stretch from horizon to horizon.
Almost as large as the Kruger National Park at 14750 square kilometers (5700 square miles), the Serengeti Park has an incredibly diverse ecosystem which includes endless grass plains, yellow African savanna, river forests and stunning woodlands. This ecosystem has been in place for millions of years and remained mostly undisturbed by humans. With the Tanzanian government’s dedication to maintaining conservation efforts along with the invaluable efforts from the various lodges, conservation groups and concerned individuals, the area has been kept almost pristine despite the millions of tourists coming to the area each year. It is considered by many biologists and ecologists as one of the most important natural areas for science due to the lack of disturbance to the ecosystem and that the conditions remain similar to what they were millions of years ago.
With the world famous Maasai Mara National Reserve to the north, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area to the southeast, Ikorongo and Grumeti Game Reserves to the west, the Maswa Game Reserve to the southwest, and the Loliondo Game Control Area to the northeast, you will find the larger Serengeti Ecosystem which is all connected with free roaming animals which leads to a more biodiversity. This entire area is considered as one of the most beautiful areas in the world and is a must see for any nature lover.