The Kopjes of Serengeti

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Serengeti is a vast plain of grassland, woods and swamps, nearly 30,000 square kilometers, that stretches from north-western Tanzania into south-western Kenya. The plains are home to approximately 70 large mammal and some 500 avifauna species, including the largest terrestrial mammal migration in the world.

Dotting this vast savannah are outcrops of granite that stick out like rocky islands in a sea of grass. They are called kopjes, and were formed when the soft volcanic rock and ash that covers Serengeti were eroded away to expose the extremely old metamorphic rock below. Standing majestically around plains of savannah with vegetation dominated by bushes and grass these beautiful metamorphic rocks consist of very hard granite capable of resisting erosion from rain and harsh tropical winds. Aside from providing a scenic contrast to the surrounding grasslands, kopjes provide habitat for many creatures because of the presence of a variety of plants, caves for dwelling, water, and a vantage point for Serengeti’s many predators.

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Simba Kopje. Photo credit

Kopjes are essentially piles of ancient rocks that poke through the more recent soils and surface rocks. These rocks were laid down more than 500 million years ago all over Africa. Over this, volcanic activity from volcanoes of the Ngorongoro highlands deposited a layer of rocks and ash, about one million years ago, to create a rich and fertile soil that produces short, sweet grass when it rains. As the surface rock and soil wore away, it exposed the uneven top of the granite layer forming kopjes.

Kopjes are refuges for life in the Serengeti. On top of these natural structures some special plants grow by sticking roots into the cracks in the rocks that trap soil and nutrients. There are many animal species that only live on kopjes because of these plants, the rocky habitats and hiding places they offer. Where the plains of Serengeti are too flat to hold water, the hollows in the rock surfaces provide catchments for rainwater. The weathered, cracked and rounded surface harbor insects, birds, lizards, and snakes, to mammals such as shrews and mice. The elevated rocks are perfect places to warm up in the morning or evening sun, and provide an ideal viewpoint for animals to survey the plains for food.

An interesting mammal exclusive to the kopjes is the Rock Hyrax. Hyraxes, which are about the size and shape of a rugby or football, and eat grass and herbs around the kopjes. Another animals that have made home on kopjes are the small size antelope called klipspringer

Although kopjes are scattered throughout Serengeti, one particular kopje found much publicity for providing inspiration for some of the scenes in the movie “The Lion King”. The kopje was thus named Simba Kopje.

Also see: Kubu Island: A Desert Island of Baobabs and Ancient Fossils

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Lion scouting from his kopje. Photo credit

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Sources: Geocache / EPOD / Serengeti.org / Safari Ecology / All Africa

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