Catch the Great Migration from your couch with the Serengeti Show Live

When lockdown happened, a hospitality team with no guests decided to stay on in Tanzania's famous national park and bring this phenomenal event to the world via YouTube

12 July 2020 - 00:01 By Sanet Oberholzer
Wildebeest cross the Mara River during the Great Migration.
Wildebeest cross the Mara River during the Great Migration.
Image: Jorge Tung/Unsplash

Imagine hundreds of thousands of wildebeest thundering through Tanzania's Serengeti as they prepare to brave the roaring waters of the Mara River. Facing the dangers of disease, starvation and fatigue as they move north, many will perish at the claws of land predators or be crushed in the jaws of crocodiles.

As they migrate in search of food and water, they head for the green plains of Kenya. In the process, about 250,000 wildebeest die, but those that make it will once again turn back towards Tanzania at the end of the year for the cycle to start again.

The wildebeest have been migrating since the world has been in lockdown, leaving the plains of the Serengeti all but deserted, save for a team of five people who have been hard at work producing content for Serengeti Show Live (on YouTube). They've been there since April, following the Great Migration and producing weekly episodes from the heart of the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

They are from a company called Great Migration Camps, which normally offers mobile safaris to paying guests.

"When all this corona stuff was happening we all looked at each other and said, 'We are not the kind of people who are going to be good at sitting here in lockdown.'

"We thought, 'We have a camp, let's see if we can get some support and let's go share the Serengeti.'

"That's really how it started," says Sally Grierson, who is part of the production team.

Their camp is a small mobile operation that they're able to pack up and move in one day, making it possible for them to follow the wildebeest year-round. With no guests, the team saw an opportunity to share the beauty of the Serengeti with the world during this time.

BRINGING TOURISTS BACK

The initiative was started by South African Carel Verhoef, a wildlife guide and the presenter of the show, in collaboration with the Tanzania Tourist Board, Tanzania National Parks and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority. Verhoef says he hopes the show will help bring back tourists to Tanzanian parks and reserves once travel opens again, so that conservation authorities will once more have money to do their work.

Several kinds of animals, including lion, have been spotted on the daily drives.
Several kinds of animals, including lion, have been spotted on the daily drives.
Image: Eric Lafforgue/Getty Images

With 17.2% of Tanzania's GDP generated by tourism, many jobs and livelihoods are on the line. "We are trying to retain income for the guides and the staff, but also to retain capacity as an industry when tourism does recover," says Verhoef.

The 30-part series began airing in early May and new episodes have been broadcast every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Every episode features a variety of wildlife seen on a daily game drive, an update on the Great Migration and the location of the wildebeest herds as well as Kids Corner and Camp Life segments.

Grierson says Kids Corner has been such a hit that they've put together a separate Kids Corner playlist on their YouTube channel, which kids are able to watch without having to sit through the rest of the show.

"People are sending pictures of their kids watching, glued to an iPad. They've been sending us amazing shots of them pitching tents in the garden and making stick bread and things that we've done in the Kids Corner."

TAKE US TO THE RIVER

The 30th episode aired last Sunday, but Grierson says they're planning to stay in the Serengeti until month-end in the hope of catching the first Mara River crossings of the Great Migration, which normally start mid- to end-July.

"We will do some more episodes but it's unlikely to be three per week. Staying to do more episodes is also dependent on donations coming in as we are running out of cash to keep funding ourselves," she says.

They have been working in partnership with generous sponsors, but much of what the team has been doing has been self-funded.

"Our motivation for doing this is just to show how beautiful this space is. It's an incredible park. I've been in loads of parks all over Africa and the stuff that's here is amazing," says Grierson.

The message behind their show is simple: once it's safe to travel again, the Serengeti will be ready to welcome you.

TUNE IN AND YOU COULD WIN

Visit serengetishowlive.com for info or to make a donation. Watch all the episodes on youtube.com/serengetishowlive.

Kids stand a chance to win a five-day family safari experience in Serengeti National Park for a family of four (two adults and two children) with Great Migration Camps - worth more than $10,000 (R170,000). For more information visit their website.


MEET THE PRESENTER OF THE SERENGETI LIVE SHOW

South African Carel Verhoef is the host of the Serengeti Show Live. He has been a wildlife guide for 17 years and has spent most of this time in the national park, where he has followed the annual wildebeest migration for 15 years.

He tells us more:

The best part of my job is making people's dreams come true, spending time on the wildebeest migration, witnessing the Mara River crossings and the calving season - it is an emotional experience.

Over the past few months while the world has been in lockdown, there has been a definite change in behaviour in the Serengeti. Animals are skittish and if you do not approach in a careful way you can ruin the sighting. Luckily I am used to guiding with a real understanding of animal comfort zones and have a more delicate approach to wildlife. As a guide you must be able to view an animal without changing its behaviour.

Carel Verhoef has been a wildlife guide for 17 years.
Carel Verhoef has been a wildlife guide for 17 years.
Image: Brendan Allen

The pandemic has meant a very real drop in tourism income for the Serengeti and Kilimanjaro national parks. Conservation is almost 100% reliable on park entry-fee income from tourists and related revenue streams, and without tourism there is no money for anti poaching and infrastructure maintenance.

One thing I want viewers to learn from the show is that the Serengeti is diverse, big enough to get away from other people and that it is the most spectacular park in the world, both from a scenic-beauty and quality-of-wildlife-sightings point of view. We want safari lovers to know that their park entry fees are going directly into the conservation of all of Tanzania's national parks and reserves. We want viewers to experience the wonderful beauty of the park and then come and visit and see it for themselves, connect with nature and bring their families and kids so that we have the next generation in love with nature.

All the drama and wildlife interaction that come with the Great Migration are what make this part of the world so special. The space and landscape of the Serengeti changes often - there are wonderful plains with dotted granite outcrops; soda lakes and marshes; savannah woodland and riverine high-altitude vegetation. Then there are the dramatic Grumeti and Mara rivers and a huge number of predators and prey fill this space.

Lockdown in a bush camp has been my normal way of life. I grew up in the Kruger National Park and have lived in the bush for another 17 years since then. I have perhaps been camping for longer than living in town, so this is life for me. After Serengeti Show Live we have to cover all 22 other national parks in Tanzania, so we are preparing for a substantial time living in tents and in harmony with nature.