Several perennial rivers flow through the Seronera Valley enabling a multitude of large mammals to flourish year round. The Seronera River is the largest and most well known of the four rivers that flow northwest from the plains through the valley and ultimately into the Grumeti River, which empties into Lake Victoria. From an aerial perspective, the Seronera River, Wandamu River, Songore River and Nyamanje River all snake out through the broad entrance to the Seronera Valley like giant green fingers. Each river is lined with beautiful umbrella acacia, yellow barked acacia and sausage trees. The Seronera River in particular, with its seasonal swamps and deep pools of water, is ideal lion and leopard habitat and there is perhaps no easier place in Africa to see both these species of big cats in action. Myles Turner writes,
"We camped on the Seronera River in January. It was the beginning of the rains, and the migrating wildebeest were scattered for miles around our camp in their countless thousands. Innumerable zebra, topi and Thomson's gazelle were in sight all day long. Big-maned lions moved majestically among the herds. Prides of lionesses and cubs - sometimes as many as thirty - relaxed under the acacia trees. Green again after the onset of the rains, the great plains reached to the horizon, a paradise of grass and game, bathed in brilliant sunshine under a deep blue African sky."
The game drive loops that parallel the Seronera, Wandamu, Songore and Nyamanje rivers are superb for wildlife viewing. Game viewing along these game loops is good year round, although it is a bit better in the dry season when the lion prides are more sedentary and easily spotted in the parched grasses. The lions wait patiently for the hunt to come to them as prey animals are forced to regularly visit the rivers to drink. Each river has small tracks on either side that run up and down the entire length of the watercourse. The Seronera River game loops seem to be the best spot for lions, while leopards are commonly seen along the Songore River game loops. The Seronera River and respective game loops end at a big marsh on the backside of the Maasai Kopjes. This is a great spot to see lions in action and we have frequent reports from guides and guests seeing successful hunts here.
The banks along the Seronera River, along with the Songore River, are the best areas in Africa to find leopards. Elegance personified, leopards are notorious for being especially graceful and enigmatic. Maybe it is their stunning beauty, or perhaps their incredible power, that captures the imagination of all visitors who travel here. Certainly having the opportunity to glimpse this stealthy cat is quite a thrill, as leopards are quite adept at hiding. However, if ever you are truly motivated to see a leopard in its natural habitat, this is the place to be! These mysterious and cunning felines favor the riverine forests that line these riverbanks. Aside from their stunning presence, it is the leopard's elusive nature (and the tantalizing challenge to see one) that makes a leopard sighting a truly golden moment.
A study in the Serengeti found that there were 7 resident adult leopards in a 72 square mile study area in Seronera. This equates to about one leopard per ten square miles, and when cubs and a smaller proportion of nomadic leopard are factored in, Seronera boasts one of the highest concentrations of leopards in all of Africa. The large leopard population is compounded by the fact that there are relatively few large trees along these rivers, a combination of factors which make it even easier to spot leopards in Seronera as compared with more heavily wooded areas. We certainly recommend that you keep an eye out for this majestic cat in the branches of the sausage trees that dot the banks of each river. "Secretive, silent, smooth and supple as a piece of silk, he is an animal of darkness, and even in the dark he travels alone (Edey, 1968)."
The leopard leads a solitary existence and adults only come together briefly to mate. In a short study conducted in Seronera in which 155 leopard sightings were recorded, during only 3 sightings were two leopards seen together. Cubs stay with their mothers until about 22 months of age at which time they become independent. The leopard is mainly nocturnal and most active in the dark of night, although it is commonly seen active during the day in Seronera. Referred to as the 'Prince of Stealth', the leopard hunts by stealth and ambush. Leopards are able to drag large prey weighing more then their own body up a tree where they can eat in relative safety from marauding hyenas and lions. Look for a tail twitching in the branches of the trees along the rivers and watercourses of Seronera to spot these elusive and beautiful cats.
The rivers and watercourses in Seronera are certainly famous for leopards but an even greater attraction are the large resident lion prides. These prides base themselves along the Seronera River during the dry season where they ambush their prey when it comes to drink. Lions usually hunt under the cover of darkness but the thick bush along the river provides enough cover for the predators to stalk their prey during the day. George Schaller in his book The Serengeti Lion writes,
"When several lions spot potential quarry they characteristically fan out and approach in a broad front...And at no time is such movement more vitally beautiful that when a lion tautly snakes toward its prey. I found that fleeting hesitation between the end of the stalk and the final explosive rush a moment of almost unbearable tension, a drama in which it was impossible not to participate emotionally, knowing that the death of a being hung in the balance."
The Seronera River Valley is well known for the largest resident lion prides in the Serengeti. It is the 'Park Place' of lion territories in the Serengeti due to the permanent sources of water and the high resident prey biomass. Each lion pride in the Serengeti is named after a noteworthy feature in their territory. Four of the largest prides in Seronera that frequent different sections of the Seronera River include the Masai Kopjes Pride, Makoma Hill Pride, Campsite Pride and the Seronera Pride.
Twenty-six resident lion prides residing in and around the Seronera Valley have been continuously studied since 1966 when George Schaller began his groundbreaking field study. The Serengeti Lion Project was hence created, which is the longest continuous field study ever conducted on a large mammal. One female member from each of the 26 prides is radio collared so that they can be tracked and studied on a weekly basis. You will frequently encounter female lions with collars throughout the Central, South and East Serengeti though one would never see two collared lions in the same spot as lion prides are fiercely territorial. George Schaller began the study from 1966 to 1969, followed by Brian Bertram from 1969 to 1974, Jeannette Hanby and David Bygott from 1974 to 1978 and lastly Craig Packer starting in 1978. After 1978, the Serengeti Lion Project was taken over by the University of Minnesota under the directorship of Craig Packer. Two field biologists are stationed in Seronera 365 days a year to monitor and continue this long-term study. ADS is a proud sponsor of the Serengeti Lion Project and for a $500 donation, we can arrange a field talk by the current field biologists at the Lion House in Seronera where you can learn first-hand about the lions of the Serengeti.
Lions are intensely social animals and do almost everything as a group, and not just as a mob but also as a team. They hunt together, rear their young communally, and defend jointly held territories.
"A lion pride is a tightly knit group of adult females, their dependent young, and a coalition of immigrant males. The pride territory belongs to the females, who pass it on from mother to daughter for generations. The males come into the pride as a group. They father the cubs and defend the pride against marauding bands of wandering or nomadic males. Every few years the resident coalition is replaced by yet another group of males. Husbands come and husbands go, but the matriarchy carries on forever (Packer, 1994)."