The Grass House at Gibb’s Farm

Many visitors come to Tanzania with the hopes of witnessing the great animal migration.  They hope to see millions of wildebeest, zebra, and other ungulates participating in this seemingly chaotic phenomenon.  The driving force behind this mass migration is the search for grasslands.  This cottage theme explores the life force that drives millions of animals across Tanzania, into Kenya and back again.

The migration pattern (1) changes annually based on weather (see map below).  Generally, the animals spend the wet season in the south east on the short grass plains and during the dry season in the north west in the woodlands.  The pattern typically consists of the animals grazing in the short grasslands in the southern plains during December-February.  In March-May, the animals will slowly start moving north west to the western corridor where they get their food from the long grass plains and the woodlands.  Around May the animals are usually crossing the Grumeti River which is a dangerous time for the animals but a sight for visitors as there are often animal casualties due to the crocodiles lying in wait.  May also marks the beginning of the dry season and after crossing the Grumeti River, the animals proceed through the Grumeti Game Reserve and the Ikorongo Game Controlled Reserve towards the Mara River.  The animals usually encounter the Mara River in July and this is again a precarious situation for them as this river has crocodiles as well.  The animals are now headed to Kenya’s Maasai Mara Reserve ) where they may stay to graze up until October, At which time storms and rain usually build up again and the animals will start to move south east through the Loliondo area on the western border of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and then once again back to the short grass plains around Ndutu. 

Millions of pregnant wildebeests, zebras, and other mammals cross the plains, arriving just in time to give birth and their young to feed on the new grass – a significant life cycle. The event is also a wondrous example of symbiosis.  Egrets and other birds travel with the herds feeding on the insects kicked up by the moment.  Multiple species travel together finding safety in the shear numbers of the event. Charles Bies, (2) a SANAA artist-in-residence, depicts the crush of the wild wildebeests that dominate the migration.  A well established rhythm exits between the new borne, mothers and the rest of the herds. The babies must remain safe and quickly gain strength to prepare for the return journey to the north once the tender grasses become dry.

Reinhard Kunkel’s (3) incredible photography book details the wondrous aspects of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (right). His camera caught the raw power of these amazing creatures running in heard formation in his photograph below, On The Run.

A past resident of the reserve, Kunkel looked down into the crater in 1963. Ten years later he returned to live there to work on the Rhino Project.  A Berliner, he studied economics at Saarbrüeken. A German champion in his teens his swimming career later led to his first African safari.  The safari saw the end of the economist and the beginning of the wildlife photographer, filmmaker and writer. He is the author of African Elephants (1998), and his photographs and articles have appeared in many magazines, including: National Geographic, Life, Stern, Geo, Paris-Match, Terre Sauvage, BBC Wildlife Magazine and the Sunday Times magazine.

Likewise, children within an Iraqw household are expected to be obedient and respectful towards their father and their mother.  Although respect for parents is greatly emphasized, mothers are able to be a bit more affectionate with the children compared to fathers.  The bond between a mother and her child is evident in Lawi Moshi’s wood carving, ‘Mother and Child’ (4)

Like the birthing and feeding cycle of Serengeti mammals the village mother’s routine is set by the cycle of life and community. In a print entitled ‘Barberg Women’ (5), a mother is occupied by two children, one content, the other hungry and wishing for attention.

The life giving grasses of the Serengeti plains also represent protection and utility.  Weaver birds use grass for nesting in the tall grasses. Riziki Kateya. a SANAA artist-in-residence, managed to capture the Grosbeak-Weaver (6) in her watercolor painting and its delicate nest situated at the top of the reeds growing from the pond.  It is amazing that these small creatures can create a home in what seems to be a very precarious situation. 

Weaver birds are another example of the symbiotic relationships that exist in the biosphere.  The weaver builds a nest above the water to take advantage of the soft landing a newborn may need if its first flight is a failure.  The water typically attracts insects, a convenient way to feed.  Some also think that the water offers a sort of protection.  All may be reasons the weavers tend to congregate in the water reeds.  The Gibb’s Farm gardens contain three such weaver ponds, a testament to the founding gardens of Margaret Gibb – a means to attract Ngorongoro birds for the enjoyment of her travelers.

The Grosbeak-Weaver is one of over 210 species of birds that can be viewed on or around Gibb’s Farm.  For bird lovers, it is strongly suggested that you take advantage of the bird watching walk offered here at the farm.  Travelers have the opportunity to walk with one of our naturalists who are able to spot and identify many birds on the farm grounds and neighboring conservation area.  The vast flower gardens offer other examples of a mutually dependent relationship between flora and fauna.

At one point, the old coffee processing factory was located where Majani Grass House now exists as well as the old staff living quarters and canteen.  If travelers stand on the verandah of Majani Grass House they will see the old cement coffee fermentation tanks that are the remnants of the old coffee factory used by James and Margaret Gibb.  This farm began as a German coffee farm in the late 1920’s until it came under British control and was then purchased by British War Veteran James Gibb in 1948.  James Gibb produced, processed, and exported the coffee until the economy took a turn for the worse and he and his wife were forced to look at other ways to produce income.  The answer came in the form of cottages to accommodate the increasing number of visitors to the neighboring Ngorongoro Conservation Area that was established in 1960.  This began the tradition of Gibb’s Farm as a resting place for safari travelers – ‘ a respite from the rigors of safari’.

In addition to aiding the Weaver birds, grasses are used by many cultures to produce items useful in daily life.  The basket weaver collects grasses according to texture, color and size.  Various species of bamboo have been planted in the garden around Majani Grass House.  Bamboo is a grass many cultures use, building everything from baskets to entire houses. (6)

Travelers who have witnessed this migration phenomenon will no doubt appreciate the wonder and uniqueness of such an event; and all because of a search for grass.  Grass, or Majani in Swahili, is one aspect of the environment and local ecosystems that Gibb’s Farm strives to emphasize the importance of to visitors.  This area is rife with wildlife, flora, and fauna unique to this part of the world and Gibb’s Farm offers various activities to expose travelers to all that surrounds them.  Travelers are able to participate in a morning bird watching walk for a chance to see some of the over 200 species of birds that visit Gibb’s Farm.  A walk to the Elephant Caves in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area will reveal the area where elephants and buffalos dig out minerals for consumption.  The African Living Spa at Gibb’s Farm provides an opportunity for travelers to experience traditional Maasai massage techniques and herbal remedies for such problems as headache, stress, and other maladies.  These activities reveal the relationship between the wildlife and the environment that exists within Gibb’s Farm as well as the neighboring National Parks and Conservation Area.  For more information on the various activities available to travelers, please visit Reception.


(2) Charles Bies, Migration, Mpingo wood carving. A Commissioned Sanaa work.

(1) Annual migration driven, in part, by the life cycle of the rains and grasslands.

Sanaa Art Gallery Collection installed in each cottage.  Select works have been commissioned to carry the theme and lesson of the house.

(3) Reinhard Kunkel, Ngorongoro photography and literary publication