Wildebeest Great wildebeest migration in Maasai Mara, Kenya. © Yaron Schmid

Stories in Africa

Africa: 2017 Year in Review

Read the Year in Review.

By DAVID BANKS, Executive VP, TNC Africa, Europe, and India

Dust stirred up by thousands of hooves fills the truck, mingling with the smell of sweat and dung. Braying and mooing distract from the mechanical noises. As we move faster with the herd, I begin to understand what it’s like to be a wildebeest.

The Serengeti envelopes you. Grass merges into sky on one horizon and back into grass on the other. One big endless plain now filled with life. This is migration. A million-plus wildebeest and zebra will move in slow marches, punctuated by stampeding bursts, across the southern short-grass plains where they calve, then to the dry-season grasses along the Mara River in northern Tanzania and Kenya.

The circuit they trace is the largest — and one of the last — unbroken wildebeest and zebra migrations on Earth. It’s hard to believe that other similar migrations have been stopped by roads, or rather by what they bring: farms, homes, shops, schools. Things people need.

But development doesn’t have to happen in the path of millions of animals. That belief is what brought us to Africa — and what still drives us.

Over the past 10 years, we’ve found the right partners and made each other stronger. We’ve trusted the people we live with to guide us. And we’ve also made mistakes. We learned and we grew. That’s what we do at The Nature Conservancy. That’s who we are.

As rain begins to fall on the Serengeti, the wildebeest around me hunch their shoulders in the chill; and the pace slows and the dust settles. On the granite boulders of Moru Kopjes, I see the full manes of two male lions, and in the distance, several spotted hyenas lope across a small gulley. This scene has played out for millennia. 

Racing across the plains, dodging aardvark holes with the wind and rain in my hair, I think about how rapidly Africa is urbanizing. Our best chance at saving what is unique and bold about this place is to band together and tackle the biggest challenges head-on. That’s what we do. 

Read the 2017 Year in Review and help support our efforts to protect Africa's wild places.