Kopjes in Serengeti Kopjes

Kopjes are very different from the surrounding grassland or woodland in Serengeti. Kopjes provide, among other things, protection from grass-fires, more water in the ground around them, holes, cracks, and caves for animals, and a vantage point for hunters of all kinds. Hundreds of species of plants grow on kopjes, but not in the surrounding grasslands. There are many animal species that only live on kopjes because of the special plants that grow there and because of the special rocky habitats and hiding places there. These animals range from insects, lizards, and snakes, to mammals such as shrews and mice, up to large specialist mammals, such aslions. Lions regularly hide their cubs on kopjes, as docheetahs.

Below the layers of volcanic rock and ash that form the soil of Serengeti is a thick layer of extremely old metamorphic rock. Late in the Precambrian, a giant bubble of liquid granite forced its way up from the liquid layers below the Earth's crust and into the Tanganyika Shield. Today, as the softer metamorphic rocks of the Shield wear away, the uneven top of the granite layer is exposed, forming kopjes. The granite is cracked by the repeated heating and cooling under the African sun, and weathered into interesting shapes by the wind. Most kopjes are round or have round boulders on them due to "spherical weathering".

An interesting mammal exclusive to the kopjes is theRock Hyrax, or Pimbi in Swahili. Hyraxes, which are about the size and shape of a rugby or football, are herbivores that eat grass and herbs around the kopjes. Their piercing call echoes out at night, and their habit of using common toilet sites stains the granite white with built-up uric acid. Hyraxes have the startling habit or leaping out of tall trees and off of rocks and running away on their short legs when they feel threatened. It can be quite surprising to discover that it is suddenly raining fat little Pimbis all around you.

If a person is lucky, they might see the shyklipspringer, a small antelope, with dainty hooves perched high on a kopje in the northern areas of the park. These same high points are used by hunters to survey the ground around them, or just have a nap in the sun. Kopjes are one of the best places to see lions and sometimes cheetahs on the hunt.

Read an interesting story about Kopjes by Greg Sharam.

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