Serengeti II

Meet The Amazing Animals of Serengeti

By Nickie Latham

At the heart of East Africa lies the Serengeti, home to over 70 large mammals and 500 bird species.1 

From lions to leopards, elephants to warthogs, gazelles, jackals, baboons, wild dogs, the Serengeti is home to an eclectic array of wildlife. But what are the stories of the animals who inhabit these teeming plains? What dramas are unfolding every day? Come, meet the stars of Serengeti.

Kali the lion Serengeti 2
Kali, the Lion. ©Richard Jones
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Serengeti II

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Kali, the Lion 

Kali knows how it feels to be part of the most feared gang in the Serengeti. Lions are the only cats who live in big groups2 and at the heart of Kali’s pride is a formidable sisterhood of lionesses. These powerfully-built providers who take on the lion’s share (as it were) of hunting for the group, and protect their cubs fiercely. While the lionesses hunt, the males babysit - protecting the pride and the territory from rival males who will oust them and kill the cubs at the first sign of weakness. Even for apex predators, danger lurks in the long grasses. Kali knows these dangers well. She was exiled from the group when she had cubs with an outsider. It took all of her fortitude to keep herself and her babies alive while she worked to regain the pride’s trust. Back in the fold, Kali enjoys the strength in numbers. When trouble comes, she will defend this family with her life - she may have to.

Bakari the Baboon Serengeti 2
Bakari, the Baboon. © Mat Goodman⁣

Bakari, the Baboon 

Bakari didn’t set out to be a leader. He didn’t set out to be a father either. But when his friend Subira died in the deadly grasp of a python and her newborn was abandoned by its father, Bakari stepped up and became stepdad. This isn’t unheard of - both male and female baboons have been known to adopt orphans.3 But trying to navigate new parenthood doesn’t give low-ranking Bakari a free pass from the stresses of the Great Rock hierarchy. The troop’s leader regularly puts him in his place - challenging him, teeth bared, regardless of the tiny infant on Bakari’s back. This leader is impulsive and selfish, leading the troop carelessly into the territory of the baboons’ most deadly predators - crocodile and leopard. On more than one occasion, Bakari must step in to protect the group from disaster when his leader does not. Brave and big-hearted, Bakari displays qualities that the alpha lacks and respect for him grows. Could this unlikely leader be exactly what the troop needs?

Nalla the elephant Serengeti 2
Nalla, the Elephant. © Warren Samuels

Nalla, the Elephant 

Family is everything to Nalla, the wise matriarch of the elephant herd. For this group of majestic giants, a problem for one is a problem for all - a fallen calf is scooped up by many trunks; when a threat appears, the large, fearless females form a barrier to protect their young. Even lions, those fearless hunters, generally accept that confrontation is futile against the world’s largest living land mammals.4 Attacks are rare. But danger comes in many forms and Nalla faces difficult decisions daily - whether navigating the herd’s migration, surviving the Serengeti’s hostile elements or negotiating complex relationships when bulls enter (and leave) the fold. Nalla was made for this - elephants have the largest brains in the animal kingdom, high emotional intelligence and elemental intelligence too - they can even hear clouds approaching.5 She will never let the herd down. But on the Serengeti, storm clouds are never far away, and even the wisest leaders face tests that threaten to overwhelm them.

Shavu and Shaba the Jackals Serengeti 2
Shavu and Shaba, the Jackals.

Shavu and Shaba, the Jackals 

Why bother going to all the bother of hunting when you can get someone else to do it for you? That’s Shavu and Shaba’s philosophy - a crafty young pair of jackals who find that dinner is all the more delicious when you haven’t had to bloody your paws catching it yourself. The only problem is getting rid of the pesky hunters who wilfully refuse to hand over their haul. This is where team work comes in - jackals are one of the few mammals who mate for life,6 and Shavu and Shaba are in this together. Their long legs, peerless cooperation and reckless attitude towards personal safety helps them run rings around the lions and hyenas who wind up losing their prizes. But confidence only gets you so far - Shavu and Shaba must be careful that they don’t wind up as someone’s dinner themselves.

Shani the Zebra Serengeti 2
Shani the Zebra. © Warren Samuels

Shani, the Zebra 

Life is very different when you’re the hunted rather than the hunter. As leader of the zebras, every day is a dice with death for Shani and her herd. With a fawn in tow, the dangers are doubled. But Shani is resourceful - using everything at her disposal to survive. Zebras have excellent eyesight and hearing,7 an alarm system against predators. They run in zigzags to deter their pursuers, and then there’s their iconic stripes. Scientists don’t know for sure why zebras have stripes, but one leading theory purports that they dazzle the hunter, making it difficult to pick out individual zebras from the galloping herd.8 But not all threats lurk outside the zebra clan - a strong female like Shani is highly prized and her brave stallion Punda must fight relentlessly to prevent rival males from stealing her from the herd and even killing her foal.

Mzuri and Dada the Leopard cubs Serengeti 2
Mzuri and Dada hiding in grass. © Mat Goodman

Mzuri and Dada, the Leopard cubs 

Life on the Serengeti is a riot of colour, smells and excitement for this adorable pair of sister cubs. Their big eyes drink in the new exciting world they’ve tumbled into. Leopards live in a variety of habitats across Africa - from mountains to deserts and grasslands like the ones that Mzuri and Dada play in. But as inviting as this new world seems, dangers lurk around every corner and cuteness is no protection. The cubs will grow to be ferocious predators, solitary hunters who ambush their prey - baboons, antelopes and gazelles - when they can catch them.9 But while young they are vulnerable. Childhood is short lived in the Serengeti. Mzuri and Dada must learn the skills to survival quickly in order to see their future.

Tamu, the Gazelle fawn Serengeti 2
Tamu, the Gazelle fawn. © Warren Samuels

Tamu, the Gazelle fawn 

It’s nice to be popular - and in the Serengeti gazelles are VERY popular… but it’s a kind of popularity that Tamu the gazelle fawn could do without. Lions, jackals, cheetahs, wild dogs and leopards 10 all want to get close to Tamu, but unfortunately, it’s not friendship that they have in mind… We’re most accustomed to seeing gazelles as supporting cast in the story of the Serengeti - they’re often pictured as the unwitting victim, grazing peacefully on the savannah’s long grasses, before the predator makes a move, followed by the chase and the violent take down. That’s not to say they’re easy pickings. Gazelles are fast - they run at dizzying speeds of 80 km/h.11 So hunters must be choosy - singling out the small, the vulnerable… On paper that should be Tamu, but somehow this plucky fawn hasn’t received the memo - dodging jackals, outpacing hyenas, tawny eagles and outsmarting the mighty lion, Sefu. Let’s hope Tamu’s luck doesn’t run out before his/her stamina does…

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