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Balloon Safari

 



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Overview
To the Maasai people, Serengeti means endless plain. To others, it means Africa itself. The Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya and the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania preserve much of the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, a 26,000-square-kilometer (10,000-square-mile) home to three million animals. This ecosystem is defined as much by the boundaries of the wildebeest migration as by the characteristics of the land and climate. Twice a year the rains come to the Serengeti. The heaviest rains pour from March until May; the lighter rains fall from November to December. Two million grazers, including wildebeests, have spent the dry months browsing in the northern woodlands of the park. As the rains come, the wildebeests make their several-hundred-mile journey to the Serengeti Plain and the new grasses of the savanna. The grass knits the Serengeti together. As the great herds return to the plains, the new grass awaits them and will form the staple of their diet. These grazers have evolved a set of front teeth for biting and back teeth for grinding. Each species grazes on specific parts of the grass. Zebras bite off the grass's tough tops, wildebeests chew on the middle leaves and stems, and gazelles and other antelopes eat the stems closest to the ground. The food chain doesn't stop there. Carnivorous (meat-eating) predators lie camouflaged in the grasses, readying themselves for the kill. As in all ecosystems, the animals of the Serengeti have adapted to their habitat. The giraffe's tough 46-centimeter-long (18-inch-long) tongue reaches between the thorns of the acacia to eat its tender leaves 5 meters (16 feet) above the ground. The cheetah's flexible spine enables it to sprint over 97 kilometers (60 miles) per hour to topple and kill a gazelle. The hippopotamus's eyes, ears, and nose are located at the top of its head so that its 3,175-kilogram (7,000-pound) body can stay submerged under water. The vulture's keen eyesight can spot a dead animal from 300 meters (1,000 feet). The Serengeti remains one of the last places on earth where life in the wild surpasses the imagination. Yet with the encroachment of people, pollution, and poaching, the balance of nature is being disturbed. If the world doesn't cry out for the Serengeti's preservation, this vast wild place could soon be gone.

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