The museum at the Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti welcomes learners of all ages.
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, it wanted to revitalize the property with a sense of place befitting its extraordinary setting. 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 the massive annual Great Migration of wildebeest and other species of mammals that begin their long-distance trek north to Kenya.
This is the park that inspired the smash Broadway musical, The Lion King.
A peek inside
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 gleamed from books and journals, has been digested so it is easily understood. For example, one interactive map has a large screen that allows visitors to track the migration month-by-month.
Handcrafted exhibitions differentiate the lifestyle of herbivores from carnivores; some explain the habitats of insects and wildlife and their valued 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 was in residence for two weeks in November 2013. He and his brother created the BeetleCam, a remote-control 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., accompanied guests on game drives offering photo tips geared to their varied levels of experience.
A five-star hotel in the bush
The contemporary architecture, design 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 on 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 a perfect choice for families, intergenerational groups, and any lifelong learner.
This post was previously published by FlightNetwork.com.
Previously on MoreTimeToTravel.com