Savanna

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The African savanna. Photo by Kate Yoshida

You may not have heard of a savanna, but you may know this ecosystem by its other name: a grassland. And its name sounds just like what it is, since savannas are large grassy habitats with a few trees.

All year round, savannas are nice and warm – the temperature rarely drops below 70 degrees F, and it never gets too hot either. Another thing that makes savannas special is that most of the rain falls at one time of year, which is called the rainy season or the wet season.

The most famous example is the African savanna, a grassy plain filled with grazing herbivores, hungry predators, and a few lone trees. The African savanna has a huge number of large animals, making it an exciting ecosystem to study.

Adaptations

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Chameleons are masters of camouflage. IamNotUnique via Compfight cc

Many predators live in the savanna, including lions, leopards, cheetah, hyenas, and more. With so many predators around, other species must be very careful not to get caught! Prey in the savanna have many adaptations that help keep them safe.

Camouflage

Thorny acacia trees are hard for herbivores to eat. Photo by Kate Yoshida

Camouflage is a common defense strategy for prey. Chameleons may have the best camouflage in the savanna, since their bumpy skin can change color depending on their surroundings.

Zebra, however, use a very different kind of camouflage. Their bold black-and-white stripes confuse predators, making it hard for a lion or hyena to single out one zebra in a stampeding herd.

Plants in the savanna also have adaptations that protect them from hungry herbivores looking for a meal. Acacia trees, for example, have thorny branches that make it hard for animals to snack on the plant’s leaves.

Interactions

To help stay safe, many animals in the savanna live in large groups. One of the biggest advantages of living together is that group members can all keep a lookout for danger. The more pairs of eyes a group has, the safer it is.

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Many savannah animals stay safe by helping each other look out for predators. Photo by Kate Yoshida

In fact, savannas have some of the largest gatherings of mammals on our planet. Every summer, millions of wildebeest and zebra gather in East Africa during what’s called the “Great Migration.” These huge herds migrate as the seasons change, following the rain and new grass. Staying in such a big group helps them stay safe from predators like lions and crocodiles.

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Zebra and wildebeest cross a river during the Great Migration. Photo by Kate Yoshida

But there are some big downsides to living in groups too. Large groups need plenty to eat and drink, and animals may have to compete with each other if food and water is hard to find. It’s also easier for animals to get sick when they live together, since group members can all pass diseases to each other.

Challenges

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Many poachers illegally hunt elephants for their tusks. Photo by Kate Yoshida

One of the biggest problems facing savannas right now is poaching , which is the illegal hunting of animals. Some of these illegal hunters are looking for food to eat and others just want to steal and sell an animal’s body part, like an elephant’s tusks. Because of poaching, many savanna animals like rhinoceroses and elephants are now endangered.

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Dogs such as bloodhounds are helping track down poachers in Africa. Source: Wikimedia

People who care about these animals have figured out some ways to stop poaching. Large fences can help keep hunters out of national parks, and rangers on the lookout can catch poachers before they kill any animals.

There are also some more creative solutions to the poaching problem. Some national parks have trained dogs to sniff out and track down poachers. Others are using drones to keep an eye on rare animals that need protection from hunters.

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