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Animal Migrations in Tanzania a few Myths and the odd Fact.

melbourne
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Animal Migrations in Tanzania a few Myths and the odd Fact.

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.

Isle of Man, United...
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31. Re: Animal Migrations in Tanzania a few Myths and the odd Fact.

Two theads in one going now.

To Marla,

You misread the tariff. Nobody sells the "The Trophies". this is waht the idiot Hunter pays for the right to shoot that animal over and above the $45,000 for the Safari. i.e. Lets say our Nimrod gets himself a Bull Elephant $14,500, a ravening Male Lion (not) $20,000, throw in a Hippo (that he thought was a Rhino) $4,200 and hey while he has got a spare bullet or two why not a Porcupine and Monkey? $300.

That's another $39,200 big ones on TOP of the Safari. And for what? To prove he has the money and can hold a gun reasonably straight. (He does not know that his 'minder' has probably fired simultaneously to save his face when his own bullet went wide.)

Shooting Honey Badger!! I think he should be put in a sack with a live Honey Badger. To make it even I would blind-fold the Honey Badger.

@Carel. Like the Tarangire River, Manyara never dries up. The clue is in the name "Ground Water Forest". That will only stop running if and when all the trees on the Ngorongoro forest are cut down.

To repeat, very little game migrates over Manyara Ranch. Most comes in and leaves via the TCA to the EAST!

Thanks to NoExpert for the Fiscal info. Interesting. Rather blows the boast about how valuable the hunting, is out of the water.

And to IAB for the fascinating insight to the "Hunter". Not even a clean kill!

Edited: 07 December 2011, 10:02
Venice, Florida
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32. Re: Animal Migrations in Tanzania a few Myths and the odd Fact.

Mfuwe: thanks for the clarification.

Sounds to me like the nimrod is hunting with his brains that are below the belt.

With that parting shot (haha)' I am off line for two weeks and off to TZ...ciao.

Isle of Man, United...
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33. Re: Animal Migrations in Tanzania a few Myths and the odd Fact.

@Marla,

There is indeed a school of thought that the two are somehow linked.

Have good trip.

34. Re: Animal Migrations in Tanzania a few Myths and the odd Fact.

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Isle of Man, United...
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35. Re: Animal Migrations in Tanzania a few Myths and the odd Fact.

I never saw Lake Manyara in 2011 but it doesn't matter. I don't think the animals drink the Soda Lake. They drink from the many fresh streams that come down off the Escarpment such as Kirurumu, Msasa, Marera and Endebash. If you knew the ecology you would know that!

The Migration is as predictable as it's larger namesake. Animals must drink and when the Steppes go dry they head for Tarangire.

melbourne
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36. Re: Animal Migrations in Tanzania a few Myths and the odd Fact.

Carel

I picked up from a thread I wrote about Tarangire in January 2010 (almost two years now!!), and have added to it for your benefit and others who are interested.

Firstly, for the wildebeest movement between Tarangire and Manyara: this was always only a small proportion of the total number of wildebeest. After the short rains, usually at the end of October or early November, which in the Tarangire ecosystem, of a yearly average of about 650mm of rainfall, about 10% falls in September, October and November, usually in one or two large heavy rainstorms, lasting a few hours, and creating havoc with the roads for an hour or so. The baobabs start to show green shoots and the hills and ridges take on a green tinge from all the grasses and bushes. It is at this time that the wildebeest and zebra move out of the park through the Conservation Area and out onto the Maasai steppes. The Zebras not usually leaving the park or conservation area entirely, but wildebeest moving 30 to 40 kms away to graze on forage to be found in the Lolkisale and Simanjaro plains as the phosphate content of the soil, and hence the forage, is significantly higher than that found in the National Park. This has specific physiological ramifications for wildlife, especially lactating mothers. The population of wildebeest is estimated to have dropped by 80%!!! in the last 15 years. From around 30,000 in the 60’s to about 7,000. Mainly due to hunting and poaching, but also possibly because of loss of some habitat on the breeding plains around Simanjiro. Out of the estimated 7,000 odd, probably 5,000 are found spread out on the Simanjiro plains. About another 1000 or so are in the TCA and the Lolkisale Plains where there is also a small area with sufficient phosphate concentrations for lactating, and about 1,000 or so head west and spread out over the entire length of the eastern shoreline of Manyara. Herds here in the tens rather than the hundreds. There are no permanent lodges or camps on the Simanjiro Plains, some of the operators have mobile camps, but visiting the area is hard, a couple of hours drive east of Tarangire, and roads after the rains can be impassable for short periods.

So the driving force here is reaching the phosphate rich plains to the east of the park, so the herds to the west maybe not breeding, or are finding small patches of suitable grazing areas, remember Minjingu has the phosphate mine! The number of Masai cattle is not a direct reason, as for hundred of years or so they have been sharing similar grazing areas, and where as zebras like the taller grasses, wildebeest prefer the short grass and the Masai cattle will graze anywhere! And you often see herds of cattle with zebras and wildebeest mixed in, especially on the eastern shores of Manyara.

Also, we are not talking large distances as in the Serengeti ecosystem and a circular movement through the ecosystem, to ask when is best to sit and watch the wildebeest leave the park for the 20 to 30 kms to the breeding grounds, is trying to predict when the first heavy showers will fall, so to try and plan this as tourist event is almost impossible. When they do move they will move out and be in the breeding plains over a couple of days only. Not the same as what happens in the Serengeti,.

Also Manyara did not completely dry up, as Mfuwe pointed out, and I have heard there is already a significant amount of water in the lake now after the heavy rains over the last few weeks. (The bridge at Mto Wa Mbu was out of action for a few days! from what I read in The Guardian) and also the drying up of East Africa’s alkaline lakes is a seasonal thing and not a recent occurrence, so this would have little impact on the game viewing and is not unusual. On the eastern shores of Lake Manyara you have three camps/lodges that I know of, although I have not visited for awhile, Chem Chem, Maramboi and Ol Tukai Manyara. So access here is not as difficult as you make out.

You must have been very lucky to have seen gerenuk, especially around Swala camp and this is not their normal habitat, a bit to bushy and the wrong types of acacia. In fact the north of Tarangire is probably as far south of the Somali Masai Habitat which is where gerenuk occur, areas like Mkomazi, Longido and same typify this. So populations in Tarangire have been reduced greatly due to hunting outside the park in the north.

In September and October the dry season is at its peak, and this provides some of the best game viewing to be had anywhere in Africa, the baobabs are bare, the grass has dried out and dust devils whirl across the plains.

The only source of water in the ecosystem is the stagnant pools and seeps to be found in the Tarangire River and it tributaries outside the park, and the remnants of the Silale swamp, all mainly in the north of the ecosystem. During the heat of the day, the river is packed with massive herds of elephants, zebras and wildebeest. Unlike traditional safari thinking, it is best to spend the middle of the day game viewing. During the evening and nights, most of the wildlife are to be found on the ridges and hills, away from the river itself. This is purely for self preservation, as it is much harder to see the lions and other predators, and too easy to be ambushed on the rivers banks. So whilst many operators are returning to the lodges or camps for lunches, I found Tarangire to be exciting when the herd of elephants, zebras and wildebeest all head down to the river mid morning and spend most of the day along the river banks. This is also the best chance to see lions and cheetahs as they are also more active at this time, and many lion kills in Tarangire tend to occur near water sources.

The main attraction in Tarangire is of course the elephants, over 3000 of them, and the only place in Tanzania where you will see so many young of all ages, who even during the long rains never wander far from the park. The matriarchs and calves tend to stay within the confines of the park and the conservation area, drinking from the river during the day or from the shallow seeps in the sand river beds, and grazing far at night, north along the Lemiyon plains towards the Makuyuni river and east towards Gosuwa swamp in the Conservation area.

Research undertaken suggests that elephant populations are growing at a rate of about 7% per annum over the last 15 years or so. A number of reasons, mainly I think there is greater protection from poaching. In the 80’s Tarangire was severely hit, and even the 2,000 odd rhinos were wiped out in this period. In the north of the park, the elephants range between 500 to 1,100 sq kms depending on the season, whereas in the south it is more between 1000 and 5200 sq kms. (to put into a figure easier to envision, during the rains imagine a circle of about 16kms in radius for the elephants in the north and about 40 kms for those in the south) This may be due to the more permanent waters found in the top third of the ecosystem, Lake Burunge, the Tarangire River, Silale Swamp and the water seeps in the Conservation Area and just outside the park in the Gosuwa swamp. There is a sand river in the Conservation Area where I can remember staying 10 years ago in a mobile camp, where the elephants, between ten and 20, used to come every evening and dig holes in the soft sand to get to the subsurface water. So the elephants found in the north of the park are using the Naitolia Concession area to the north to the Makuyuni River, whilst further south they are moving west into Manyara Ranch and the Ol Tukai Conservancies, and towards the shores of Manyara, and in the east out onto the plains between Lolkisale Mountain and the Siminajiro plains which are about 20 kms away. The bulls of course range over a much wider territory. Obviously the best time for watching elephants is during the dry season when everything is concentrated in the north, and you will see large herds, up to 400 or 400 in the Silale swamp. During the “green season” between the rains, they will be in much smaller groups, and usually les than 30 or so as an approximation.

In December, January and February about 250mm of rainfall occurs, still in only a handful of main incidences. The grass is still short, and everywhere is green, elephants are found in mainly small families groups. Wildebeest are rarely seen but zebras and other wildlife especially giraffe and impala are found everywhere. It is also during this period of short rains that the packs of hunting dogs move through the area, mainly seen on the eastern side of the park and heading north and towards the Manyara and Natron area.

Impala of course don’t migrate and will be found all year round in the woodlands, whether in the park or outside in the Conservation area and surrounding forests. Zebras tend to follow a different pattern, usually after the rains they will be found in areas where the grass in higher, such as to the north around Naitolia, and also permanently on the shores of Manyara to the west.

Buffaloes are also found in large numbers on the ridges and slopes leading down towards the swamps. Movement is not great between seasons, but you will find them to the north and east after the rains, in smaller herds, in the west there are probably too many villages and farms, even though there are wildlife corridors and camps and lodges to see them consistently. Apparently buffalo have grown to about 15,000 in the last ten years or so! Not easy game for the resident hunter! Or poacher.

It is also at this time that the herds of oryx and eland move in from outside the ecosystem, from the dry Maasai steppes and are found in the plains around Lemiyon in the North and in the Conservation area, very skittish from being hunted for the last 6 months of the year, but easily spotted on the plains. Even in 1963 this was noted by Lamprey who did the first census of wildlife in the Tarangire area, and even then the opening of large farms to the north of Lolkisale was seen as a problem for these two large antelopes, not to mention they are highly prized for bush meat! These herds would be travelling up to 60 0r 70 kms towards the park when the rains begin.

In mid to late March and early April the long rains occur, mainly steady rainfall for hours on end, over a few days, then clearing before starting again. game viewing can be difficult on some days because of the muddy roads and black cotton soil plains. Elephants are everywhere, as are buffalo. Walking in the Conservation area is sometimes exciting and challenging. Nearly 50% of the yearly rainfall occurs from late March to early May. At the end of May the grass in the valleys is high, but with the drying of the water holes on the Maasai steppe and the beginning of the hunting season in June the wildebeest move back into the park.

From June to September, the weather is very mild, the park slowly begins to dry out, and by mid June takes on the characteristic brown dun color. Once again you will find the really large herds of elephants in the Silale and Gosuwa swamps, and wildebeest and zebra congregating on the banks of the Tarangire river during the middle of the day.

Most of the cats do not wander far, the lions and cheetah that are found outside the park are usually in the area most of the year. One thing that is really interesting, is that Lamprey in 1963 noted with concern the lack of large males lions with developed manes, and attributed this to the tourist hunting that was occurring here. This is still a problem as Tarangire is seen as one of the best areas for hunting lions. So even 40 years on, this is still a problem, and no one seems to be taking into account all the research that has been carried out over years, and taking this into consideration when setting hunting quotas.

Carel I hope my answer is of interest and does clear up the migration issue in Tarangire.

Over the weekend the Serengeti.

Isle of Man, United...
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37. Re: Animal Migrations in Tanzania a few Myths and the odd Fact.

Thanks from me NoExp. Very informative and comprehensive as to the why and when.

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38. Re: Animal Migrations in Tanzania a few Myths and the odd Fact.

I hate hunting and guns of any kind. But one of my favorite songs are "The Man in the Mirror" by Michal Jackson.

With all the guns in this country (US) they not only hunt animals but people.

What are we doing about that?

Where did all the buffalos go?

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39. Re: Animal Migrations in Tanzania a few Myths and the odd Fact.

Down from the soapbox.

Forgot to thank noexpt,

Just love your knowledge and expertise.

Isle of Man, United...
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40. Re: Animal Migrations in Tanzania a few Myths and the odd Fact.

Soapbox is good. Time to speak oout!

Repeal that Clause. No guns. Nobody gets hurt. And the Buffalo can roam home on the range once more. The Deer and the Antelope can play and there is better music too!

Just a thought from over the pond.