What (and Where) is a Savanna?

Not to be confused with the city in Georgia, which is in fact not a savanna, savannas can be found throughout the world and are home to a wide variety of animal life. They are a tough ecosystem to live in as there are many predators and environmental hardships.

Tropical Grasslands

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Savannas, also spelled “savannah,” are large, open, rolling grasslands. Rainfall in these areas is not steady enough to support forests, so only grasses and the occasional small tree or shrub is able to survive. The year is divided into a wet season and a dry season. The dry season is typically longer than the wet season, but the length can vary a great deal. During the wet season, the savanna will see an average of about 50 inches of rain compared to the dry season, which will see only a few inches, if any. Droughts and wildfires are common during the dry season.

These tropical grasslands are found within 20 degrees of the equator, so the temperature does not change very much throughout the year. During the cold season, the average temperature is 77 degrees versus 82 degrees in the hot season.

Found Worldwide

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While there are many savannas throughout the world, the most famous is the Serengeti in Africa. In fact, over half of Africa’s surface area is categorized as savanna. There is also the Llanos in Venezuela and Colombia, the Cerrado in Brazil, and the pine savannas in Central and North America. Many regions of India and Australia can also be classified as savanna.

Abundant Wildlife

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The most diverse collection of ungulates (hooved mammals) can be found in the African savannas. Because of the abundance of grass to graze on and the wide-open spaces for herds to move, savannas offer the best habitat for species such as gazelles, antelopes, zebras, and larger species like elephants.

Because of the vast numbers of herbivores that call the savanna home, they are also a popular spot for predators such as lions, cheetahs and hyenas. Safaris are a popular way for tourists to get close to these unique predators from the safety of a vehicle.

In addition to the many mammals that roam the grasslands, savannas are home to many insects as well. The wide-open spaces and loose, dry soil make it a prime location for termites. Over 1,000 species of termites call the savanna home and can build mounds that can reach more than 20 feet tall!

Healing Fires

Photo of a burning grassland
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Most of us are used to seeing wildfires as negative natural disasters. In the savanna, they are an important part of the ecosystem. During the dry season, lightning strikes spark the dry grass, causing massive fires that spread quickly over the plains. These fires remove the dead grass and shrubs and provide space for new growth to form. Trees in savannas have grown thick bark and massive root systems that help them survive the annual fires.

Most of the animals in the savanna are used to these fires and either outrun them or burrow into the ground to escape. Birds of prey have even learned to use the wildfires for quick and easy meals. They will take flaming branches and brush in their beaks and intentionally spread the fire, flushing out small animals and insects into the open to make them easy prey.

The Wonderful Savanna

Photo of elephants on an open grassland
Credit: guenterguni / iStock

Savannas can be found all over the globe and are home to many species of wondrous and unique animals. Whether you check out the pine savannas in North America or the tropical grasslands of Africa, these ecosystems are truly one-of-a-kind. Taking a Serengeti safari is a common item on any nature-lover’s must-do list.

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