FYA: For Your Awareness
Savannas are characterized by grasslands with few trees and cover about 20% of the globe excluding the ocean. They are home to approximately 2 million large plant-eating mammals and the largest diversity of hoofed animals in the world including antelope, wildebeest, buffalo, zebra, and rhinoceros.
What is a Savanna?
A savanna consists of grasslands with shrubs and scattered trees, found in warm dry climates with drought conditions most of the year. They are also known as tropical grasslands. Savannas are located on either side of the equator often next to tropical forests. There is a dry season and a rainy season. Temperatures are warm year round with a rainy season of 6-8 months. They can receive up to 59 inches of rain; it is also very hot and humid during the rainy season. Food supplies can be high during certain times of the year and low during others. Animals often migrate within the savanna to find food supplies. Savannas are located in Africa, Australia, India, and South America. They have a lack of trees due to drought and fires.
Plants and trees have adapted to drought-like conditions by growing long roots that can reach into the water table, have thick bark to protect against fires, have trunks that store water and they often drop their leaves during the dry season. Grasses can be bitter or sharp, to discourage grazing. Animals eat only portions of the grasses and the animals have adapted by eating only specific plants, so there isn’t competition for the same food source. There is a wide variety of soil types within the savanna.
There is a delicate balance between the animals, with the plant eating (herbivore) animals surviving on grasses and shrubs and the meat eating (carnivore) animals that eat them. Animals in the savanna have adapted by being quick to outrun predators, using camouflage to blend into their surroundings, or developing long legs or wings to go on lengthy migrations. Others burrow underground to raise their young and/ or avoid the heat. Animals that live in savannas include the following, although they don’t all inhabit the same savanna: giraffe, zebra, buffalo, kangaroo, lion, leopard, cheetah, jackal, wild dog, hyena, elephant, rhino, wildebeest, antelope, warthog, baboon, crocodile, meerkat, mice, mole, gopher, and squirrel. There are also birds of prey, termites, snakes, worms, and beetle.
Where are Savannas located?
Savannas are located on either side of the equator in Africa, Australia, India and South America. They are located near tropical forests and deserts.
The African savanna takes up almost half of the continent occupying approximately 5 million square miles and can receive 15-25 inches of rain per month during the rainy season. There are numerous animal and bird species that make this their home. The Serengetti Plains in Tanzania contain 45 species of mammals, almost 500 species of birds, and 55 species of acacia.
Savannas in Australia contain eucalyptus rather than acacia trees and kangaroos, with very few other species found here.
In some parts of South America savannas are also known as llanos, located in Columbia, Venezuela, and Brazil occupying 2.5 million square km, approximately 25% of the size of Canada. In Columbia and Venezuela these areas are prone to flooding, resulting in plants that can live in standing water and animals such as the capybara and marsh deer. Overall there is less plant and animal diversity in this type of savanna.
In Brazil the savanna is more commonly called the cerrado and often contains short twisted trees. This is one of the most biodiversity rich savannas with over 935 bird species, 300 mammals, and 10,000 plant species, many of which are only found here. The cerrado covers almost 500 million acres of Brazil, about three times the size of Texas, and feeds three of the major water basins in South America: Amazon, Paraguay, and Sao Francisco rivers.
Why are Savannas important to protect?
Savannas are important to protect because they are rich in biodiversity. They are home to some of the world’s most exotic animals and birds. Savannas are located in migration corridors of animals and birds and contain some of the world’s largest watersheds. Savannas also act as carbon sinks, absorbing the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and helping to keep global temperatures in balance.
When are Savannas under threat?
Savannas are under threat from poaching, overgrazing, land conversion, and tourism. Poaching is a problem especially in African savannas where the trade in animals, their horns and hides can fetch a lot of money. Allowing livestock to overgraze in Savannas can destroy the plants that sustain the native animals. This destroys the delicate balance of plants ability to regenerate fast enough and can result in desertification. About 16 percent of tropical grasslands have been converted to agriculture or urban development. Both agriculture and land development destroy the habitat of animals, plants, and trees forever. Savannas are also under threat from tourism. African safari’s have become popular travel destinations and can ruin the natural habitat. In an attempt to counter the impacts of tourism, eco-friendly tourism promotes safari experiences at sustainable lodges in nature preserves, while providing an alternate form of income for the locals rather than poaching.
Who is protecting Savannas?
The Nature Conservancy has been working to protect the Brazilian Cerrado through partnership with the NGO’s, local governments, farmers, ranchers, agriculture community to create sustainable grazing and agriculture programs which won’t deplete the land and to create protected land set-asides to preserve millions of acres.
Nature Conservancy in partnership with Colombian National Natural Parks Agency and WWF Colombia is supporting the declaration of a new 63,000-acre protected area in the province of Casanare in northeastern Colombia.
Singita has a bold mission of developing eco-lodges in some of Africa’s most pristine and unspoiled corridors. They have preserved over half a million acres of African land and have carefully designed their lodges to utilize sustainable operating practices, employ locals and provide opportunities for them to preserve their environment for future generations.
How can we protect the Savanna?
There are several ways you can protect savannas around the world: respect and conserve grasslands where you live: learn about Savannas and teach others about them, there is a common misconception that they aren’t as important forests or wetlands; volunteer for a Savanna restoration project; and support conservation organizations that protect savannas and the plants and animals that depend on them. If you travel to a savanna region patronize companies that offer eco-friendly tourism that fund preservation of these natural environments.