The long grass plains or transitional plains consist of a massive area of long grasses and termite mounds, roughly located in the stretching miles between Seronera in the Central Serengeti and Naabi Hill in the South Serengeti. In this area the grass grows tall due to the fact that the soil base is deep and less alkaline than other areas of the Serengeti. On the short grass plains, further to the south and east, the soil base is shallow and an impenetrable volcanic hardpan prevents root growth and thus only shallow roots and short grasses persist. The great legions of wildebeest and gazelle prefer the short, more nutritious grass (more leaf then stem) found in the Southern and Eastern Serengeti as compared with the coarser grass (more stem then leaf) found here on the long grass plains, which the zebra prefer.
The zebra migration is significantly different than that of the migratory wildebeest in terms of their migratory movements and range of habitat. Specifically, during the green season while the wildebeest migration is located in the South Serengeti and the Thomson's gazelle migration in the East Serengeti, the great armies of zebra can be found on the long grass plains numbering into the hundreds of thousands. Except at the beginning and at the end of the green season, and during extremely dry years, wildebeest only lightly graze the long grass plains, probably because the grasses grow tall and coarse so rapidly that most grazers (except for zebra) find them unpalatable. Zebra are able to eat longer grass, which is too poor a quality to support wildebeest and gazelle.
When it comes to zebras, it's not all black and white. These beautiful and spirited horses of Africa lead fascinating and complex lives. To a casual observer zebras appear to move in large homogenous groups similar to wildebeest, but in fact the zebra community is composed of many family units, each controlled by a dominant stallion with 2 to 6 mares. Looking closely at a large group of zebra one will note a patchy distribution of small groups as opposed to a plain filled with wildebeest in which they are evenly distributed. The stallion always brings up the rear of its harem when being pursued which makes it much more susceptible to predation.
Once a maiden mare is claimed by a stallion and joins a harem, the mare will stay with this tightly knit family group for life. Astonishingly, stallions often form alliances with other males, standing together or fondly greeting one another with playful nips. Mares also form bonds with one another, staying together even if their lead stallion dies and is replaced by another. It is common to see zebras standing in pairs, with one's head facing the other's tale or head casually resting over the other's back. In this buddy stance, the zebras watch for predators and will mutually groom each other by nibbling the hair on the other's neck and back. The mutual grooming develops and preserves their strong family bonds. Zebras also look out for one another and will actively search for a lost family member if it becomes separated from the rest of the herd. The herd also adjusts its traveling pace to accommodate the old and the weak so they don't get left behind. An animal of great strength and spirit, zebras are quite swift and graceful. They have rock solid hooves and a strong kick that can kill a lion.
A striking contrast of black and white streaks drape themselves over the zebra's glossy coat in surreally perfect patterns that resemble modern art more than a naturally occurring phenomenon. It is interesting to note that no two zebras have the same stripe pattern - they are the snowflakes of the Serengeti with each individual unique. These stripes are thought to be a form of cryptic coloration intended to mislead an attacking predator by making it unable to single out a specifi c target. Zebras are conspicuous in broad daylight, but at night, dawn and dusk - the hours when most predation occurs - the stripes seem to blend and zebras become well camouflaged in the dark shadows and glinting moonlight. Watching thousands of these brilliantly striped zebras march together across the plains is a remarkable natural spectacle that you will never forget.
One of the more surprisingly interesting features of the long grass plains are the towering clay castles constructed by one of the Serengeti's smallest creatures, the termite. Termites may be small but they do not keep a low profile. Their presence is well known throughout the Serengeti as the mounds they erect can be incredibly large at times. Termites are powerful recyclers of vegetation and extremely important to the health of the Serengeti Plains. Termites fertilize, water and aerate the soil by building their tunnels and helping to decompose and distribute vegetation underground. Termites are not only important recyclers of nutrients but also their mounds also provide homes, resting places, lookout points and burrows for a host of mammals, reptiles and birds including aardvarks, red and yellow barbets, cheetahs, genets, hares, hyenas, mongooses, monitor lizards, pangolins, porcupines, toads and topi antelopes.
Nearly 500 species of birds have been recorded in the Serengeti National Park. Many of them are European migrants and are present only from October to April. One of the best examples is the white stork, which breeds in Europe and Russia. Its migration far exceeds that of the wildebeest. When summer ends, hundreds of thousands of white storks head south arriving in the Serengeti at the beginning of the green season. On the long grass plains they find population explosions of grasshoppers and caterpillars, enough to sustain them until the end of the green season. Then they fly north in the late spring reaching Europe when food is abundant and where they can nest and raise their chicks.