Moru Kopjes is simply stunning. An ocean of golden grasses wave in the sunlight as far as the eye can see. Smooth granite boulders rise from this sea of grass just as they have for millions of years, adorned by ornate candelabra trees that stretch their lofty arms to the heavens. An isolated wilderness of timeless beauty, Moru is an excellent place to lose yourself in the magic of the Serengeti. And when the migration thunders through the area, Moru Kopjes is simply unbeatable! Among the many highlights at Moru is the chance to encounter the rare black rhino and climb the gong rocks to see the Maasai paintings. Our recommendation is to include some time on every safari to explore this secret gem of the Serengeti.
Kay Turner, wife of Myles Turner who was chief game warden of the Serengeti from 1956 to 1972, eloquently writes in her book Serengeti Home, 'One of my favorite camps in the Serengeti was at Moru on the western edge of the central plains. This area, covering the most extensive kopjes in the Park, was believed to have been formed millions of years ago, preceding a long period of erosion that resulted in the formation of vast plains, jutting rocks and isolated ranges. The kopjes extended for miles, dotted with candelabra Euphorbia trees that stood above the surrounding vegetation. Shrubs and trees grew profusely amidst gigantic granite boulders, golden grasslands rippled in the wind like the waves of the sea, and the sky always seemed grander there than anywhere else. Of all the scenic wonders of the Serengeti, I thought Moru the most beautiful.'
A short walk up one of the kopjes at Moru leads to a series of Maasai paintings and gong rock. A shield, elephants and people are painted on the walls in colors that are seen on Maasai shields; the white and yellow come from clays, the black from the ash of a wild caper and the red is clay mixed with juice from the wild nightshade. Presumably the artists were a band of young Maasai warriors (called il-moran) who wandered for several years before settling down to their pastoral life. A couple hundred feet away from the paintings is gong rock, which consists of a large rock with circular holes that may have been used as a communication device. Both the paintings and gong rock offer a chance for a pleasant walk and the views from the kopje are spectacular. This is certainly a great spot for a picnic lunch.
The Moru Kopjes is home to the remaining population of black rhinos in the Serengeti. Between 1975 and 1980, rhinos were poached to almost location extinction. In one year alone (1977), an estimated 52% of the original 1,000 rhinos that inhabited the Serengeti were slaughtered for their horns, which are used as aphrodisiacs in Asia and as dagger handles in the Middle East. By 1982, only two surviving females were counted and both sought refuge in the Moru Kopjes. The situation for the black rhino looked bleak until a young bull from the Ngorongoro Crater named 'Rajabu' left the Crater and followed old migration routes into the Serengeti and to the Moru Kopjes (a 70-mile journey). Rajabu was obviously welcomed by the two remaining females and four calves were born over the next several years.
There are now 12 black rhinos in the Moru Kopjes area thanks to this amazing journey undertook by Rajabu. Though there are several rhinos that are resident in Moru Kopjes, it is difficult to catch a glimpse of these rare and magnificent animals. In 1995 the Serengeti Rhino Project was launched and tracking devices were implanted in each of the rhinos' horns. The rhinos in the Moru Kopjes are monitored 24-hours a day and you will often see rhino patrol vehicles in the Moru area. There is a small visitors center at Moru where one can learn more about the Serengeti's rhinos and the conservation strategies being employed.
Moru Kopjes is situated at the mouth of the Mbalageti River Valley where there is water, some shade and abundant grazing. With such plentiful resources the migration tends to stall here during its northward and southward movements. Eventually however, the great herds do exhaust the food supply and are forced to move on. The Mbalageti River Valley links the plains to the woodlands and forms a natural corridor that the wildebeest and zebra migration follow each year. During May-June (northward migration) and November-December (southward migration), Moru Kopjes offers phenomenal game viewing as it lies directly on the main wildebeest and zebra migration route.
Game viewing is at its best in Moru during May for the northward migration. At this time significant potions of the wildebeest migration thunder through Moru as they move northwest along the Mbalageti River on their epic journey. The entire Moru Kopjes area is choked black with unending masses of wildebeest and zebra. The pounding of hooves, the wild grunts of gnus and giddy chortles of zebra vibrate through the air and overwhelm the senses. Domed in vast blue skies with a stage of sweeping golden plains, Moru Kopjes is a grand theatre to witness perhaps one of the most awe-inspiring moments of the migration.
May is also the time of the wildebeest rut. A synchronized mating pandemonium ensues as the migration comes together and marches off the plains. Male wildebeest madly dash about rounding up females and chasing off other males. Male bulls establish frequent mobile territories (no more then 100 feet in diameter) and each one attempts to retain as many passing cows as possible. Territories may be retained for only a few crazed hours as the great herds are constantly on the move. The noise and commotion of over ½ million bulls grunting and clashing horns can be overwhelming.
After the rut in May and an 8.5-month gestation period, the synchronized calving takes place in early February on the southern plains. The original hypothesis was that the wildebeest calved in February to correspond with the time when the protein and mineral content of grass was at its greatest and most readily available for lactating females. However, latest research shows that the timing of the wildebeest calving is actually due to the rut needing to take place at the time when the migration concentrated in the smallest area. This convergence happens at the end of the green season during May when the wildebeest come together to march off the plains and funnel through the Moru Kopjes and Mbalageti River Valley.
The Moru Kopjes (elevation of 5,368 feet) are located in the southern area of the Central Serengeti. The Moru Kopjes area can be thought of as a plains-woodland transition zone. The vast Serengeti plains stretch to the south and east horizons from Moru. To the north and west, these golden plains give way to shady woodlands. The soil composition is unique in this area allowing for characteristics of both plains and woodlands habitat (long grass and scattered trees). Resident herbivores include black rhino, elephant, giraffe, impala, buffalo, waterbuck, topi and warthog. Large bands of elephants have been seen here, mothers and offspring of various ages, gliding through these tree studded grasslands. Resident carnivores include hyenas, leopards and several lion prides. Rock hyrax and baboons are commonly seen clambering on the kopjes. Moru is a critical water catchment area for the Mbalageti River, which flows northwest from the plains to the woodlands.
Peter Matthiessen in 1972 writes; 'The Moru Kopjes rise like monuments in a parkland of twenty-five square miles. Impala, buffalo and elephant are attracted to the Morus from the western woods, and the elephants, which are celebrated climbers, attain the crests of the steep kopjes, to judge from the evidence heaped upon the rock. One day at noon, from this elephant crest, a leopard could be seen on the stone face of the kopjes to the south, crossing the skeletal shadows of a huge candelabra euphorbia. In the stillness that attended the cat's passage, the only sound was a rattling of termites in the leaf litter beneath my feet.'
Just to the northeast of Moru Kopjes lies the shallow and saline Lake Magadi, which can be a great spot for pink flamingos to gather in the glass like waters. There are two saline lakes in the Serengeti including Lake Ndutu and Lake Magadi. The Swahili word for 'magadi' means soda and hence the name translates to Soda Lake. These lakes are very shallow and may be completely dry at the end of the dry season. Such soda lakes are formed in natural depressions from which there are very limited outlets and minerals like sodium build up quickly. When these lakes do dry up through evaporation, the dry earth they leave behind glitters with a white encrustation of salts. Both Lake Magadi and Lake Ndutu attract greater and lesser flamingos, which feed on the algae and brine shrimps that flourish in the alkaline waters. Flamingos obtain their food by sifting mud and retaining very small organisms by means of a comb like filter on the edges of their bills. Bat eared foxes, almost comical looking with their enormous radar ears, have been seen digging for insects in the sunshine where the water from the lake has receded. Lake Magadi is also a great place to witness predation as lions use the bordering swamp grasses to hide and ambush unsuspecting animals as they come to drink.