The Maasai Kopjes form the eastern boundary of the magnificent Seronera River Valley. Massive stacks of boulders seem to have been heaped upon one another and rise above the landscape, abruptly interrupting the smooth skyline of the surrounding plain. These heavily vegetated kopjes stand like sentinels overlooking the broad entrance to the infamous Seronera River Valley. The craggy hollows and smooth granite crests of these towering kopjes are the home base to one of the Serengeti's most legendary lion prides called the Maasai Lion Pride. The Maasai Lion Pride, along with the Sametu Lion Pride to the southeast, make up two of the biggest prides in the Serengeti. Many generations of lions from these prides have been continuously studied by scientists since 1966 when the Serengeti Lion Project was formed. The Maasai Kopjes is a must see on any safari to the Seronera River Valley as tremendous wildlife viewing opportunities exist here.
One of the best game loops in the Seronera Valley parallels the Seronera River, starting from the Seronera airstrip and meandering all the way down to the Maasai Kopjes at the beginning of the plains. From this point there are several game loops that encircle the Maasai Kopjes as well as the swamp on the south side, which is home to the rare Bohor reedbuck. Ostriches dance their courtship tango in the shadow of the kopjes, bobbing their heads in the air and flashing their ornate plumage in dramatic style. Several other species of animals may be seen on this game loop including the black-backed jackal, leopard, waterbuck, gazelle and spotted hyena. Continuing on from the Maasai Kopjes will lead you to even more rewarding game tracks further out on the plains - all the way to the Sametu Kopjes or even further out to the remote Barafu Kopjes.
The rock outcrops of the Serengeti are one of the Park's most delightful habitats. The more visible ones on the open plains stand out like islands in a sea of grass. These rock outcrops are called 'kopjes', an Africaans word meaning 'little head', and they often do resemble heads or fantastic sculptures. They consist of 2 - 3 billion year old granite rock which, because of erosion and weathering, has been broken up into a jumbled pile of rocks. On the open plains where the countryside has been leveled off by ash deposits from the volcanoes of the crater highlands, the kopjes emerge as towering monuments. It is said that on the Serengeti Plains, "the bone of Africa emerges as magnificent kopjes."
Kopjes are remarkable in that they have their own little ecosystem with a range of vegetation and wildlife including hyrax, mongoose, porcupines, lizards and birds. Each kopje is indeed like an island with its own community of plants and animals as well as being a refuge for a mother cheetah or lion with cubs. The kopjes serve as water catchments and in the clefts where soil has mixed with eroded rock, tree seeds take root that would be otherwise unable to survive on the surrounding plains.
The beautiful Bohor reedbuck can be seen in the swamp on the south side of the Maasai Kopjes. This swamp, formed by the Seronera River, is a magnet for wildlife. It is interesting to note that reedbucks are monogamous and form bonds for life, so where you might see one reedbuck be sure to keep an eye out for his or her mate following close behind. The Bohor reedbuck is only found in swampy areas or along rivers where the grass is tall enough to conceal them. These reddish colored antelope are slender and elegant; the male reedbuck has two horns that point forwards giving it quite a unique profile. Reedbucks possess the ability to live off this long and coarse grass which other grazers find completely unpalatable.
The aforementioned swamp on the south side of the Maasai Kopjes is also a famous hunting spot for the resident Maasai Lion Pride. In some hunts a lion pride may seem to cooperate but in truth the behavior may be completely accidental. George Schaller who studied the Maasai Kopjes Lion Pride in the late 1960's writes,
"Four lioness walking down a road in single file by the Maasai Kopjes see about ten gazelles by a riverine thicket 65 meters away. While three wait, one lioness continues on alone, partly screened by acacia saplings. The gazelles spot her after 40 meters and trot to one side. The lioness rushes toward them, causing four gazelle to double back, two of which run directly in front of the three waiting lionesses. These rush and one captures a sub adult male."
In spite of these big cats' strategy or lack of it, having the opportunity to witness a lion hunt is one of the most thrilling moments one can hope for during a safari. Watching these supple cats in action - power and grace incarnate - is a heart-pumping exercise that you won't soon forget. Imagine a herd of zebra grazing quietly in the distance, while downwind several dark figures slink silently through tall grasses, their golden fur blending imperceptibly with the flaxen landscape. You are watching the entire spectacle unfold as both hunter and hunted play out this timeless drama of life and death. Bright eyes peering just above the grasses with body hugging the ground, the cats slowly and methodically stalk through the grasses and close in on their prey.
One lioness zeros in on a target, belly low to the ground, her gaze sharply focused in deadly concentration. Her mind is swiftly calculating every detail of her prey, her position and the distance between them while every muscle is poised and ready to spring. An unbearable anxiety suspends your own breathing as you wait in silent anticipation for the inevitable attack. Then it happens. The lioness releases all the accumulated tension in a single surge of power as she leaps - in a golden blur she is gone in hot pursuit of the startled prey. Your heart is pounding and you are rooting for the zebra she has chosen - "Run! Run! Run!" your mind silently screams as this being's life hangs in the delicate balance of life or death.
Then you think back to the beautiful lion cubs you saw back at the kopjes just hours before, pouncing and tumbling in the sunlight, lost in blissful play; their future also hangs in the balance and depends entirely upon their mother's success. Ironically you may find yourself cheering for the lioness and the survival of her tiny babies. And this is the bittersweet paradox that rules triumph and tragedy on these Serengeti plains. It is a drama that plays out daily, but is never commonplace. If you are lucky enough to witness a hunt, regardless of the outcome, you will never forget your personal testimony to this small slice of nature's great mystery.