The Serengeti has some of East Africa's finest game areas. Besides being known for the great migration, the Serengeti is also famous for its abundant large predators. The ecosystem is home to over 3,000 lions (Panthera leo), 1,000 leopards (Panthera pardus), and 7,700 to 8,700 spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta).
Wild dogs are relatively scarce in much of the Serengeti. This is particularly true in places such as Serengeti National Park (where they became extinct in 1992), in which lions and spotted hyenas, predators that steal wild dog kills and are a direct cause of wild dog mortality, are abundant.
The Serengeti is also home to a diversity of grazers, including African buffalo, warthogs, Grant's gazelle, eland, waterbuck, and topi. The Serengeti can support this remarkable variety of grazers only because each species, even those that are closely related, has a different diet. For example, wildebeests prefer to consume shorter grasses, while zebras prefer taller ones. Similarly, dik-diks eat the lowest leaves of a tree, impalas eat the leaves that are higher up, and giraffes eat leaves that are even higher.
The governments of Tanzania and Kenya maintain a number of protected areas, including national parks, conservation areas, and game reserves, that give legal protection to over 80 percent of the Serengeti.
The southeastern area lies in the rain shadow of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area's highlands and is composed of shortgrass treeless plains with abundant small dicots. Soils are high in nutrients, overlying a shallow calcareous hardpan due to natrocarbonatite eruptions from Ol Doinyo Lengai. A gradient of soil depth northwestward across the plains results in changes in the herbaceous community and taller grass. About 70 kilometres (43 mi) west, acacia woodlands appear suddenly and stretch west to Lake Victoria and north to the Loita Plains, north of the Maasai Mara National Reserve. The sixteen acacia species vary over this range, their distribution determined by edaphic conditions and soil depth. Near Lake Victoria, flood plains have developed from ancient lakebeds.
In the far northwest, acacia woodlands are replaced by broadleaved Terminalia-Combretum woodlands, caused by a change in geology. This area has the highest rainfall in the system and forms a refuge for the migrating ungulates at the end of the dry season.
Altitudes in the Serengeti range from 920 to 1,850 metres (3,020 to 6,070 ft) with mean temperatures varying from 15 to 25 °C (59 to 77 °F). Although the climate is usually warm and dry, rainfall occurs in two rainy seasons: March to May, and a shorter season in October and November. Rainfall amounts vary from a low of 508 millimetres (20 in) in the lee of the Ngorongoro highlands to a high of 1,200 millimetres (47 in) on the shores of Lake Victoria. The highlands, which are considerably cooler than the plains and are covered by montane forest, mark the eastern border of the basin in which the Serengeti lies.
The Serengeti plain is punctuated by granite and gneiss outcroppings known as kopjes. These outcroppings are the result of volcanic activity. Kopjes provide a microhabitat for non-plains wildlife. One kopje likely to be seen by visitors to the Serengeti is the Simba Kopje (Lion Kopje). The Serengeti was used as inspiration for the animated Disney feature film The Lion King and subsequent theatrical production.
The area is also home to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which contains Ngorongoro Crater and the Olduvai Gorge, where some of the oldest hominin fossils have been found.