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DQ Blog

DECEMBER 2012. SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK, TANZANIA

Roughly 1.5 million wildebeest inhabit the Serengeti.

The wildebeest genome is an extremely efficient recipe for turning grass into meat.  Wildebeest may not be the smartest animals on four hooves but you've got to give them that.  And the greater Serengeti ecosystem is where this grass-to-meat transformation manifests in its most spectacular abundance.  Roughly 1.5 million wildebeest inhabit the Serengeti, migrating seasonally, following the rains and the new greenery and other enticements, circling around from their calving grounds on the eastern plains, across the Mara River and up into Kenya, back down into Tanzania and eastward again, like a vast whirlpool of flesh.  Predators follow the wildebeest.  Scavengers following the predators.  Calves, with desperate attention, follow their mothers.  Males follow females.  All this makes Serengeti National Park one of the best of all earthly places to contemplate the poignant interconnectedness of sex and birth and life and death.

That's why I was there: on assignment for National Geographic to research a story about mortality and lions.  Late one recent afternoon, I stepped out of a Land Rover near the crest of a broad, gentle rise.  The vehicle's driver, my traveling companion, was Daniel Rosengren, a tough and savvy young Swede employed as a field assistant by the Serengeti Lion Project, a long-term study run by Dr. Craig Packer.   I wanted to make a cell-phone call, and Daniel had brought me up to one of the high spots where I might find coverage for my Tanzanian SIM card.  We were surrounded by grass in all directions, a few distant acacias and kopjes, and a mere several thousand wildebeest.  The animals continued eating as I phoned home.

Pride of lions in the Serengeti.

Standing 30 feet away from your vehicle is not recommended in the Serengeti (matter of fact, it may be prohibited by park rules) because of the lions.  But the pride we'd been radio-tracking seemed to be somewhere else.  And with so much alternative prey all around, I figured the odds of my getting predated were pretty low.  My call went through, but it was mid-morning of a Friday back in Montana, and my wife seemed to be away from her phone.  I

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