Serengeti Story; Life and Science in the World’s Greatest Wildlife Region by Anthony Sinclair
The Serengeti, one of the ten natural travel wonders of the world and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa is located in north Tanzania and extends to southwestern Kenya. In his book, Serengeti Story; Life and Science in the World’s Greatest Wildlife Region, Anthony Sinclair explores the shaping of one of the major conservation sites of the world. From the political, cultural, economical and the ecological events that have made the Serengeti what it is today. He also recounts his personal experiences of the dramatic experience. In twenty chapters, Professor Sinclair answers what is outstanding about the site, why it is a protected World Heritage Site and the future of the marvel. The book explores all what defines the Serengeti: The great migration, the African buffalo, the great rinderpest pandemic of the 1889, socialism, ivory poaching, and the future of conservation to mention a few.
Known as “the greatest show on earth” the great wildebeest migration involves close to 2 million animals. 1.5 million Wildebeest accompanied by 0.4 million zebra and 0.2 million gazelle, migrate from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the Masai Mara National Reserve during July through to October. There is no tangible start and finish to this migration, just a cycle on the Serengeti Ecosystem with the animals moving between the Mara and Serengeti in search of water and pasture. The movements cannot be given a definite route. No one year is the same as the other and the animals never move as one major group. The movements recorded on maps are of large herds although splinter groups exist. The highlight of the show is the crossing of the Mara River. The wildebeests take days to gather to the tens of thousands before proceeding to cross the river. The crossing point could be a calmed point on the river with little vegetation to hide predators. However, the crocodiles at the river anticipate this crossing and prey on the calves and weak animals.
The great rinderpest pandemic of 1890 was the worst of its kind. Resulting in loses of up to 2.5 million cattle in south Africa alone, the pandemic was believed to have originated from Asia. It swept through the whole continent causing the deaths of cattle, eland giraffe, wildebeest kudu, and antelopes. These deaths resulted in the crippling of the Masai population who relied heavily on cattle as a source of food and status. This contributed to the ease of colonization of most East African communities by the Europeans. The disease traveled fast through to South Africa where intense measures were taken to control the epidemic. However, these efforts proved vain when the cattle there were eventually infected and the disease burnt itself out in 1905. The repercussions of this pandemic have had a profound influence on the ecology of the Serengeti. Buffalo tracks were observed in the area before the pandemic hit. The consequent famine and outbreak of smallpox led to the evacuation of the human population and inhabitation by tsetse flies. The virus continued to plague the land every ten to twenty years before the cattle vaccination campaign.
Among the greatest problems, ailing the Serengeti is the constant human-wildlife conflict. The majority of the population living in the surrounding area is impoverished locals who capture animals such as the wildebeest for their meat. The meat is used for consumption as well as commercial use. The cause of conflict between the communities and the park authorities is the land problem. The increase of population has resulted in the need for more settlement land. The park is also threatened by human activities at its borders that pose a threat to the animals such as fires. This threat to animal population is increased by poachers who hunt elephants and rhinos for ivory. This great problem prompted the establishment of patrols to protect the animals, hunt down, and punish poachers. The future of conservation efforts lies in the ability of the authorities to ease the conflict. The government should encourage alternative economic activities to ease the strain on land needed for agriculture. There is a need to control immigration to areas near the park to reduce the population problem. Another way to solve the population problem is to encourage family planning. There is also a need to bring awareness to the importance of wildlife to the Tanzanian economy.
BBC Four: Unnatural Histories
The people of the Serengeti
More often, the Serengeti is synonymous to wildlife and scenery. The BBC film documentary, Serengeti explores the most important aspect of the Serengeti; its people. How they have shaped the entire region and how they continue to influence the region. The film follows the trail right from the original inhabitants to the foreign influence, the colonial powers to the modern day Tanzanians and Kenyans who occupy the region. The most significant event in the film however is the introduction of the rinderpest pandemic into Africa; how it was introduced how it coursed through the continent and eventually its effect on the Serengeti.
The original inhabitants of the Serengeti were ancient hunters and gatherers. Serengeti comes from the Masai word for “endless plains” Siringet. The Masai in Tanzania have inhabited the Serengeti for almost 200 years before their eviction to Ngorongoro Conservation area. The Masai have since been allocated the eastern, northern, and western part of the area. Their rich culture is also a tourist attraction as they have managed to preserve their traditions and remain almost uninfluenced by western civilization. The Masai have signature apparel that distinguishes them from any other tribe in the region. Their red garments and beaded necklaces and headgear are made as ornamental souvenirs for tourists. The most intriguing feature of the Masai is their simple way of life. Being nomadic pastoralists, they travel with their cattle in search of water and pastures. Their cattle are an important part of the society as they are the source of livelihood and status. The Masai were very unpopular with the European colonialists as they were hostile and unaccommodating of the new faith (Christianity) and way of life.
The most significant happening that shaped the history of the Serengeti however was the Rinderpest Pandemic of 1889. The plague was introduced along the coast of Africa from Arabia or India by the Italian armies. During world war one; rinderpest was brought into East Africa by infected cattle. The Union government however was on high alert and inoculation efforts were carried out in Lake Nyasa and Lake Tanganyika. The effect of the pandemic was evident when the most common sight in the Serengeti, the buffalo was reduced to some three four herds. The disappearance however of the disease after 1960 ensured the rapid increase in the population of wildebeests and buffalos. To date their population remains the most dominant because of the infection. This is because it only infected ruminants. The deaths allowed the Serengeti time to grow into lush grassland that would later pasture for the survivors of the plague. The migration was founded on this natural phenomenon.
Today, the Serengeti is home a world of diversity. There are four major language groups: Nilotes, Bantus, Cushites, and the Khoisan. All these form part of the current dwellers of the Serengeti. The current inhabitants work together with the authorities to ensure the harmonious environment experienced in the region. The tourists are part of the community in the Serengeti as they are part of the economic interdependence. The locals rely on the tourists for their contribution to the economy and the tourists depend on the locals for hospitality in the region.
There are however, challenges faced in the region such as illegal hunting and poaching. Though the problem remains persistent, efforts are being made by the Tanzanian, as well as the Kenyan government to solve them. The problem of illegal hunting has been attributed to the poverty experienced in the region. The locals though aware of the contribution of the reserve to the region and the penalty for illegal hunting, continue to slaughter wildlife for commercial purposes. To diminish poaching, researchers recommend initiatives to reduce poverty, diversify incomes, and provide better wildlife conservation education in the region.
Serengeti. Neil Nightingale. BBC, 2011. Film
Sinclair, A R. E. Serengeti Story: Life and Science in the World’s Greatest Wildlife Region. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. Print
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