Q: What is the migration?
A: The 'migration', or sometimes referred to as the 'great migration' or 'greatest show on earth', is a migration of wildlife between different areas or regions of the greater Serengeti ecosystem. The greater Serengeti ecosystem makes up the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, the Masai Mara in Kenya, Loliondo game controlled area in Tanzania, Maswa Game Reserve in Tanzania, Ikorongo Game Reserve, Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) in Tanzania, and perhaps a few other locations without designations. This greater Serengeti ecosystem is roughly 12,000 square miles, or double the actual area of the Serengeti National Park's 6,000 square miles.
Q: What animals migrate?
A: The main migratory animals are wildebeest, thompson's gazelle, zebra and eland. The wildebeest population was reported to be 1.3 million about 10 years ago, and my friends in the research community seem to peg the number at nearly 3 million today. Thompson's gazelle are roughly 350,000, zebra are 190,000 and eland are 12,000. There are other animals that migrate, such as the dung beetle.
A view of the migration, Serengeti N.P. June 2007
A: Topi (95,000), impala (76,000), cape buffalo (46,000), grant's gazelle (26,000), kongoni (14,000), giraffe (9,000), warthog (6,000), waterbuck (2,000) and elephant (2,000). It isn't that these animals do not migrate, rather they are not considered part of the 'migration' from a terminology standpoint.
Q: Of the wildlife that makes up the migration, why do they migrate?
A: They are all searching for better grazing conditions. There are 4 major locations that make up the migration: the western wooded grasslands, the northern mara bushed grasslands, the eastern woodlands and the short grass plains of the southern Serengeti (Serengit is the Maasai word for 'endless plains'). In a typical year, the wildlife migrates in a clockwise direction. Once one area is overgrazed, the wildlife will move on to better grasses. They will follow rain and rain clouds, as this is their best indicator of where the best grasses will be. Rich grasses will sprout up within hours of rainfall.
Q: If more than 1 animal species migrates, aren't they all competing for the same food?
A: Not necessarily. Wildebeest and zebras, for example, eat different grasses or part of the same grass. Zebras will eat the uppor portion of the grass, whereas wildebeest will eat the lower portion, including the 'stump'.
Q: What is it like to witness the migration?
A: This is a tough answer, because I rarely have a location where I can look out and see much if it in one scene. Photographing the migration is a bit like trying to fit the entire grand canyon into 1 frame. It just cannot be done. I am still scratching my head on how to best capture the essence of the migration.
Q: Do you like to spend all of your time trying to follow and photograph the migration?
A: Photographing or witnessing the migration is never part of my strategy, because there is so much to see and photograph. The migration goes in and out of park boundaries all of the time, and sometimes I just see small clumps of wildlife. Whenever the migration is out of sight, there is always something rich to view and photograph. When you have thousands of wildebeest in one place, you often don't see other species at that same location. Keep in mind that there are many many resident animals that do not follow the migration. Cheetah, lions, leopards, cape buffalo, elephants and giraffe are just a few that come to mind.