Scientists Say: Savanna

A savanna is an open grassland scattered with sparse shrubs and trees

an African savanna elephant crosses a savanna-- a rolling grassland with a few scattered trees in the background, with a bird in the nearest tree

The African savanna is home to the largest land mammal on Earth, the African savanna elephant.

Darrell Gulin/Getty Images

Savanna (noun, “Suh-van-uh”)

If you’ve ever seen The Lion King, you’ve seen a savanna. A savanna is a rolling grassland scattered with trees and shrubs. This type of ecosystem covers about 20 percent of the world’s land. That includes nearly half of Africa. The African savanna is home to lions, hyenas, zebras and other Lion King creatures. The Australian savanna hosts animals like kangaroos and wallabies. Savannas are also found in South America and Asia. And in North America, the oak savanna is one of the world’s most endangered ecosystems.

in an oak savanna, oak trees grow among tall grasses under a blue sky
Most people may be familiar with the African savanna. But did you know North America has savannas, too? These grasslands are scattered with oak trees.Steepcone/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Most savannas don’t have the four seasons you might be familiar with. These areas alternate between dry winters and wet summers. During the winter, a savanna may not get rain for months at a time. That prevents many trees from growing there. Dry conditions also allow savannas to catch fire easily. Those fires prevent young trees from growing up and turning these habitats into forests. But heavy summer rains help thick grasses grow. That prevents the savanna from being a desert.

In a sentence

African savanna elephants are the largest land mammals in the world.

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Maria Temming is the Assistant Managing Editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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