The park covers 14,750 km2 (5,700 sq mi) of grassland plains and savanna as well as riverine forest and woodlands. The park lies in the north of Tanzania, bordered to the north by the Kenyan border, where it is continuous with the Maasai Mara National Reserve. To the southeast of the park is the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, to the southwest lies Maswa Game Reserve, to the west are the Ikorongo and Grumeti Game Reserves, and to the northeast lies the Loliondo Game Control Area. Together, these areas form the larger Serengeti ecosystem.
Human habitation is forbidden in the park with the exception of staff for the Tanzania National Parks Authority, researchers and staff of Frankfurt Zoological Society, and staff of the various lodges and hotels. The main settlement is Seronera, which houses the majority of research staff and the park’s main headquarters, including its primary airstrip.
The park is usually described as divided into three regions:
Serengeti plains: the endless, almost treeless grassland of the south is the most emblematic scenery of the park. This is where the wildebeest breed, as they remain in the plains from December to May. Other hoofed animals – zebra, gazelle, impala, hartebeest, topi, buffalo, waterbuck – also occur in huge numbers during the wet season. “Kopjes” are granite florations that are very common in the region, and they are great observation posts for predators, as well as a refuge for hyrax and pythons.
Western corridor: the “black cotton” (actually black clay) soil covers the swampy savannah of this region. The Grumeti River is home to enormous Nile crocodiles, colobus monkey, and the martial eagle. The migration passes through from May to July.
Northern Serengeti: the landscape is dominated by open woodlands (predominantly Commiphora) and hills, ranging from Seronera in the south to the Mara River in the border with Kenya. Apart from the migratory wildebeest and zebra (which occur from July to August, and in November), the bushy savannah is the best place to find elephant, giraffe, and dik-dik.
As well as the migration of ungulates, the park is well known for its healthy stock of other resident wildlife, particularly the “Big Five”, named for the five most prized trophies taken by hunters:
Lion: the Serengeti is believed to hold the largest population of lions in Africa due in part to the abundance of prey species. More than 3,000 lions live in this ecosystem.
African Leopard: these reclusive predators are commonly seen in the Seronera region but are present throughout the national park with the population at around 1,000.
African Elephant: the herds are recovering from population lows in the 1980s caused by poaching and are largely located in the northern regions of the park.
Black Rhinoceros: mainly found around the kopjes in the center of the park, very few individuals remain due to rampant poaching. Individuals from the Masai Mara Reserve cross the park border and enter Serengeti from the northern section at times.
African Buffalo: still abundant and present in healthy numbers, but numbers have been somewhat reduced due to disease.
The park also supports many other species, including cheetah, Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelle, topi, eland, waterbuck, hyena, baboon, impala, African wild dog, and giraffe. The park also boasts about 500 bird species, including ostrich, secretary bird, Kori bustard, crowned crane, marabou stork, martial eagle, lovebirds, and many species of vultures.