In the last few days there have been a fair few posts discussing the migrations in Tanzania and/or the Maasai Mara. There has been a few opinions put forth that are a fair bit away from reality in particular the comments about Tarangire and its mini migration.
I don't and never claim to be an expert but based on my reading and experience I have compiled the following. It is long I know but for those interested in Tanzania and its migrations I hope it is of interest.
In the posts over the last few days the "Order of Magnitudes" have been a bit confusing! As well as the dryness of rivers and the so called expertise of us experts!
So if I may
The Masai Mara is about 1,510 sq kms, and the Conservancies around the reserve add about 21% to this area in size, so about 1,827 sq km, which is about the same size as it was in the early 60’s. Since the reserve was established in the 40’s, bits and pieces where excised and then re-added. NOT 15,000 sq kms.( as mentioned in one of the posts)
The approximate size of the Serengeti/Mara region is about 25,000 sq kms, which the Serengeti park is approximately 14,700 sq kms. Which means about 9,000 sq kms is in Tanzanian Game Reserves, Game controlled area and village lands, all of which are also hunting blocks.
As mentioned not all the migrating wildebeest head into the Masai Mara from the Serengeti, and in fact there is a smaller migration of wildebeest from the Loita Hills north of the Mara, which also occurs, not sure the numbers here but believe to be around the 100,000 or so.
A little know fact is that the Serengeti used to extend to Lake Victoria in the Speke Bay area, in fact the proposed park system in the 1930’s had a park from the escarpment at Manyara all through the Karatu and Ngorongoro Highlands to the shores of Lake Victoria!!
In January and February there are probably a couple of hundred thousand or so wildebeest and zebras on the alkaline plains here, also calving at this time as the rest of the main migration are on the short grass plains to the far east. The urge must still be strong in the western herds to reach the shores of Lake Victoria, often on the Musoma - Mwanza road which forms the border of the Serengeti Park, you can see the herds of zebras near the road ready to make the crossing at night into the village lands on the lake shore.
The northern Serengeti is probably where the Serengeti/Mara ecosystem is at its narrowest, and the park is only about 40kms wide in some areas. It is a different habitat to the central area and the short grass plains, with rolling wooded hills, bush and scrub and riverina valleys. This gives the illusion of being less populated by the tourist vehicle, as it is not as open, and ten years ago with the small number of camps that where in the area then , it is true that it was more of a wilderness area. But nowadays there are numerous camps mobile and permanent in the area, Serengeti Under Canvas, Bushtops, Migration Camp and Lobo Wildlife Lodge, the new Lemala permanent camp as well as their mobile camp, the Asilia Camps, Kleins Lodge and Buffalo Camp to the east of the park, the Nomad Camp that is established here as well, and I have probably missed out on half of what there is during the peak season from July to October!!
If we discount the wildebeest and zebra herds that wander through then the population of other ungulates is far less than in the south and around Seronera. Lions, leopards and cheetah are not nearly as numerous as what they are in the south, and this is why Seronera is always a good location for game viewing and still the best spot for wildlife viewing in the Serengeti all year round.
The largest Trans-border National Park/ecosystem is probably that of the Tsavo East and West parks in Kenya and Mkomazi National Park and Umba Valley game controlled area to the east of Mkomazi in Tanzania. This is about 26,000 sq kms. Also to the south of Mkomazi we have other important areas, although not conjunctive with Mkomazi, the Usambara forest reserves, the Amani Nature Reserve, Pangani River Game Controlled Area, and the newly established Chome Nature Reserve, all of which are high biodiversity areas.
In the north of Tanzania, probably the largest ecosystem is Tarangire and Manyara, it always saddens me when I see operators trying to differentiate between these two parks, and it would make much more sense from a visitors perspective to understand that it is the same ecosystem, and different parts of the ecosystem are best at different times. This ecosystem is about 35,000 sq kms, and is made up of two parks, Tarangire of about 2,600 sq kms, Manyara of about 630 sq kms, as well as reserves, conservation areas and village lands: the Lake Babati Hippopotamus Reserve, Tarangire Conservation Area to the north east of Tarangire of about 600 sq kms, (which was established by the King brothers and the villages in the 90’s), the Simanjaro wildlife area which is a joint venture between village and some private operators like the Peterson brothers of Dorobo Safaris,( which was started in the last five or six years). Also between Tarangire and Manyara there are numerous wildlife corridors, as well as one Wildlife Management Area and another proposed Wildlife Management Area, also the Oltukai Conservancy, which was established by the late Corbett on the eastern lake shore (about 10,000 acres) .
Manyara Ranch which was established by African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) with their donor millions when they failed elsewhere in the Tarangire ecosystem, (about 14,000 acres or only about 120 sq kms) and is located in a wedge between the Manyara –Makuyuni – Dodoma road, not anywhere near the lake shore.
There is of course a migration in Tarangire and Manyara, of wildebeest and zebras, and some of the 3,500 to 4,000 strong elephant population. It is not a migration like that found in the Serengeti ecosystem, and usually after the short rains the wildebeest and zebras head out to the east of the park onto the alkaline plains in the Conservation Area and Simanjiro plains. There are some swamps here, but this is also village land and there is also access roads. (Carel you can actually drive on these roads all year round).
Most operators don’t take clients there though, as most operators would not know how to get there, and have no experience, and it is well outside their comfort zone. Also the wildebeest and zebra herds are well spread out and not really massed like in Serengeti at this time.
Not sure if there is 500,000 ungulates here in this ecosystem though, from what I have read, I think there is about 30,000 wildebeest, and a similar number of zebras. Population of buffaloes and other ungulates are all in the thousands, but definitely not tens of thousands! So I would think total ungulates would be about 100,000 or so and probably less, rather than the 500,000 or so.
The migration patterns around Tarangire nowadays are different to what they where 40 years ago, where large herds of zebra and wildebeest where migrating north to West Kilimanjaro and Natron. These migration routes have been cut off by human development. Nowadays eighty percent of all wildebeest will be heading onto the plains east of the park, zebras tend to follow a different pattern and don't migrate as far, so west towards Manyara and east into the Conservation Area and Simanjiro Plains. So those staying in the lodges and camps east of the park are more likely to see herds of zebras, but usually in herds of hundreds and not thousands. The wildebeest will be spread out over an enormous area, so again you won’t see herds of tens of thousands as you do in the Serengeti, but in the high hundreds. So expectations need to be kept realistic, ie in the Serengeti/Masai Mara ecosystem there is probably 70 zebras and wildebeest on average per sq km, whereas in the Tarangire and Manyara ecosystem it is about 2 zebra and wildebeest for every sq km.
The wildlife corridors to the west between Tarangire and Manyara are important, not only for zebras (which are the main users of this route) but also for the smaller populations of wildebeest (in the thousands) and some of the elephant herds, in the hundreds but also more importantly for African Hunting dogs, and to a les extent some of the cats. Manyara Ranch is only a very very small proportion of this, less than 0.00003% of the ecosystem, so a very high investment considering the size of the Ranch , and Carel ( if you read this) you won’t find many migrating herds heading through this area at any time of the year!!
The family groups of elephants don't tend to wander that far, and will tend to move east and north onto the plains here, and the bull elephants probably are the ones that you will find in village lands forty or fifty kilometers away.
The wildebeest and zebras in Tarangire/Manyara are only a small part of the attraction of these parks, the main attraction is the largest herd of elephants in northern Tanzania and all of Kenya, as well as the largest population and variety of breeding birds in the world.
Mfuwe is correct, the reason the Tarangire park was established is because of the PERMANENT water of the Tarangire river. There is always water in the river in the north of the park, and this is why you will find elephants scattered throughout the length of the park along the river valley. Silale swamp as well has a reputation for very large herds of elephants, 400 or 500 at a time.
Oliver’s Camp when it was owned by Paul, Jim and Leslie, and when they were forced to move from village lands into the park was located just to the south of the Silale Swamp. But since Asilia has bought the camp, and it is now of a permanent nature it is further south west and more central. Not to say it is not a good base to explore Silale, but I think Sopa, Boundary Hill and Kikoti are probably just as close in terms of driving time. Also Kikoti have views towards the west overlooking Silale, whilst Boundary Hill has views looking the length of Silale towards the south.
Something else I thought I would mention here is that in both Tarangire/Manyara ecosystem and the Serengeti ecosystem, a large proportion of the migrating wildlife leave the parks into game reserves and game controlled areas. These are all hunting blocks, and until this year, the migrating herds were protected by the hunting season which used to run from June till December only. Now because of pressure from the hunting companies and the greed that exist amongst those responsible for wildlife outside the parks, the hunting has been extended to March each year, so the breeding herds when the leave these parks will be hammered for the first time ever. This is why sometimes I find it difficult to recommend or condone lodges or camps that are also owned by hunting companies, looking for the photographic dollar whilst still using the lodges as a base to hunt along the park boundaries, and very few animals are exempt, and the elephants in Tarangire are those that are hunted when they leave the park boundaries.