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Busch Gardens Tampa – Egypt: Serengeti Plain

Rating: * * *
Type: Extensive animal habitat
Time: Continuous viewing but access is limited
Kelly says: Takes persistence to see it all

This is one of Busch Gardens' major zoological achievements, a 50-acre preserve that evokes the vast grasslands of Eastern Africa. (Serengeti is a Masai word meaning "plain without end.")

Here, Busch displays a representative cross section of African plains dwellers, from charming curiosities like giraffes and the endangered black rhinoceros, to the herd animals—lithe gazelles and lumbering wildebeest (or gnus).

There are some African birds here, too, like the maribou stork, but most of the birds you will see are what Busch Gardens calls "fly-ins," Florida species that recognize a good deal when they see one. The rule of thumb is that if it's a bird and white, it's a Tampa Bay local.

It’s a brilliant idea and, by and large, well executed, although it still looks far more like Florida scrub land than the real Serengeti. The concept and the design involve a number of tradeoffs. By mimicking nature, the designers have made the animals hard to see — just like in the wild.

Although you can see into the Serengeti from Nairobi or the terrace of the Crown Colony House, the only way to get a good look is to go inside. Unless you are willing to pay the stiff extra fee for the Serengeti Safari Tour, that can be accomplished only by the Skyride (see below) and by the Trans-Veldt Railroad (see the Stanleyville section, above) that circles the perimeter. So your routes through the Serengeti are predetermined as are the lengths of your visits.

This creates a number of minor problems. There’s no guarantee that the animals will be in prime viewing position (or even visible) when you pass by, although it’s unlikely that you will miss much. And, if an animal catches your fancy or is doing something particularly interesting, your vehicle simply keeps on going; you don’t have the luxury of stopping. You also have no control over how close you can get to the animals (with the notable exception of the Serengeti Safari Tour).

That being said, the Serengeti Plain remains a major feather in Busch Gardens’ zoological cap. The animals enjoy a much more spacious and natural environment than they would have in a more “traditional” zoo and we probably shouldn’t complain too much about the compromises we must make for their comfort.

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