Bucket List Worthy
By Irene S. Levine
When Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts took over management last year of a 77-room safari lodge in the center of the Serengeti National Park in East Africa, the company wanted to revitalize the property with a sense of place befitting its extraordinary surroundings. As part of that effort, it opened the Discovery Centre in June 2013, a unique museum within a hotel.
In the Masai language, serengeti means endless plains. This is an apt description of the 5700-square mile Serengeti National Park, the oldest and most popular animal wildlife sanctuary in Tanzania. Home to two million wildebeests, hundreds of thousands of gazelles and zebras—as well as threatened species that include black rhinos, elephants, wild dogs and cheetahs—the Serengeti has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Each May, the park serves as the starting point for an annual great migration of wildebeest and other mammals, all of whom begin their long trek north to Kenya.
It was this park that, in fact, inspired the smash Broadway musical, The Lion King.
Housed in the great house (main building) of the Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti, the new Discovery Centre features permanent exhibits and a lecture hall, and serves as a base for local conservation research and education initiatives.
The displays are self-paced, designed to capture the interest and imagination of visitors of all ages. Scientific information, much of it gleaned from books and journals, has been presented in an easy-to-understand way. For example, one interactive map has a large screen that enables visitors to track the migration month-by-month.
Handcrafted exhibitions differentiate the lifestyles of herbivores from carnivores; some explain the habitats of insects and wildlife and their contributions to the ecosystem of the Serengeti. (Although they often take a back seat to the Big Five, the Serengeti is home to more than 500 species of birds.)
Glass cases hold local artifacts showcasing African culture and the lifestyle of Masai tribesmen, including bows and arrows, handmade pottery, and beaded jewelry. A large head and neck skeleton of a giraffe seems be peering at visitors from one side of the room.
“The new Discovery Centre is not only an educational tool, it is an exciting opportunity to show our guests what an incredibly special and fascinating place the Serengeti is,” says Olie Dreike, who curated the display.
Guests can contribute first-hand to ongoing research through the Serengeti Cheetah Project’s identification program, Cheetah Watch.
Lectures and tutorials by in-house and visiting experts round out the novel program. For example, U.K. wildlife photographer Will Burrard-Lucas will be in residence for two weeks in November 2013. He and his brother created the BeetleCam, a remote controlled buggy with a camera mounted on top that captures close-up, ground-level photographs of shy and often dangerous animals. The famed photographer, whose work is displayed at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., will accompany guests on game drives offering attendees photo tips tailored to their personal level of experience.
The contemporary architecture and sustainable orientation of the Four Seasons Safari Lodge blend in seamlessly with the surrounding landscape. Elephants and baboons wander on to the watering holes on the grounds. An elevated boardwalk running through the property allows guests views of indigenous flora and fauna. Open-air sundecks in each room encourage “sofa safaris” while relaxing before dinner. It’s not unusual for a baboon to appear on a deck rail.
And yes, the green but elegant property offers every creature comfort as well: a fitness center, free-standing spa (with six treatment rooms), multiple restaurants, and an infinity pool. Welcoming to children who are mature enough to appreciate the experience but understand the potential risks of the wild, the Lodge is an excellent choice for families, intergenerational groups, and any lifelong learner.