Serengeti Unnatural Histories


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Serengeti

A look at how the Serengeti wilderness has been shaped over time by hunters, pastoralists, ivory traders, conservationists, scientists, film-makers and even tourists.


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The last remaining wild places on Earth -

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primordial,

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timeless, untouched by humans.

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But are they as pristine as we think?

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Ancient cities in the heart of the Amazon.

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The most iconic wild places shaped by man.

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Is wilderness just a figment of our imagination?

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How natural is the natural world?

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Nowhere speaks of wild nature more powerfully

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than the savannas of East Africa.

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And here one place has become iconic -

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Serengeti.

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For many, Serengeti is the embodiment of wild Africa.

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The Serengeti is that which is infinite,

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that which is tremendous,

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that which is beyond control.

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But is this place what it seems?

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A national park is typically an artificial set-up. It's just a zoo magnified.

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Is this primordial wilderness as timeless and unchanging as we imagined?

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There's an assumption that if you put a line around a park, it's going to stay like that.

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Nothing stays the same.

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Is Serengeti as natural as we think?

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Humans did have a very big influence in shaping the savanna fauna and almost certainly the plants as well.

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Behind the popular image of a pristine wilderness

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hides a far less natural history.

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A story that charts the fortunes of hunters and hunter-gatherers.

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Of devastating disease,

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war and battles for political dominance...

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..taking us right back to the origin of our species and the very nature of existence,

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the story of how a particular view of the wild came to shape Africa.

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In 1957, a small zebra-striped aeroplane left Frankfurt in Germany

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on a 6,000-mile journey to East Africa.

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Inside was Bernhard Grzimek, the curator of Frankfurt Zoo, and his son Michael,

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their mission - to save the Serengeti.

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'The Serengeti in Tanganyika is a wilderness of about 8,000 square miles.

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'That is practically the size of Northern Ireland

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'and yet the Serengeti is one of the Seven Wonders of this Earth.

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'To the east lies the plateau of the giant crater.

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'The Ngorongoro Crater is the most magnificent natural zoo on Earth.

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'God created it for himself and fenced it in with mountain walls 1,800 feet high

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'to protect its inhabitants.'

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SQUAWKING

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The Serengeti at that time was headline news.

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It had recently been made a national park to protect its natural wonders.

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But the British colonial government had just announced plans to make the park smaller

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to allow more room for a rapidly expanding human population.

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When the Grzimeks went to the Serengeti in 1957,

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there was a controversy brewing over the borders of the national park.

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The British colonial government decided to create a conservation area

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that would include Maasai herders

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and separate that off from another part of the park that would be devoted solely to the animals.

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Though animals would still get some protection,

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leading conservationists the world over were up in arms.

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They opposed any reduction in size of what they saw as Africa's last great wilderness

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and in particular,

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the removal from the national park of the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater.

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Bernhard Grzimek was determined to prove the case for a bigger national park.

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He believed the key lay in the world-famous wildebeest migration.

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Serengeti's annual migration is a true wonder of the natural world -

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two million wildebeest, along with 500,000 zebra,

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following the rains across two countries.

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You encounter an immensity that you almost imagine cannot be real.

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So many wildebeest.

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And everything moving towards a certain direction.

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And you're also overwhelmed by the sense of mystery,

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the vastness, the awesomeness.

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The wildebeest migrations happen

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in a pattern that's linked to the patterns of rain and desiccation on the Serengeti.

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Their young, as well as those of zebra and gazelle, are prey for a number of the iconic predators -

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lions, hyena...

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So in a sense, they're an indicator for the broader health of that entire ecosystem.

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The migration is so famous today,

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it's difficult for us to imagine that as recently as the late 1950s,

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almost nothing was known about it.

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Bernhard Grzimek believed that the colonial government's new plans to cut Serengeti in half

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would leave the wildebeest completely unprotected for a large part of the year.

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He was deeply concerned that this would spell the end for Serengeti's wildlife.

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With the plane, Grzimek would be the first to follow the migrating herds

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and to prove that Africa's wild animals needed more space to survive.

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The plane was also the key to bringing a completely new and dramatic perspective on Serengeti.

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The film Serengeti Shall Not Die would show the splendour of this wilderness as never before

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and bring the plight of the Serengeti to the world.

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And so he became, if you like, the voice of Serengeti,

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the one that went out there to the western world and North America

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through his films to say, "Serengeti is in trouble.

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"This is the greatest place on Earth and what we don't know is about to be lost very quickly."

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Grzimek would show the world what he perceived to be the real threat to Serengeti's survival - humans.

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It was this last great Eden, so to speak, which he championed,

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but it was also this dark, stalking menace in the background which is about to overwhelm it.

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So he put those things together very effectively to create a crisis of the Serengeti.

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The bigger argument was

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these natural wonders have to be kept

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against these hordes of human predators, if you will.

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And therefore, human beings were seen as a problem, as a threat.

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They were not part of the argument, they were not part of the picture.

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The broader picture was nature has to be kept pristine.

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Over the next few years, it was this idea

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of a pristine nature, timeless, unchanging and, most of all, untouched by humans

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that came to determine not only the future of Serengeti,

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but of wild Africa as a whole.

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"A national park must remain a piece of primordial wilderness

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"to be effective.

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"No man, not even native ones, should live inside their borders."

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The only problem is, the more we look,

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the more we find this view to be at odds with the bigger picture.

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Beneath the hooves of the wildebeest, there is a much older story,

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the story of human beings.

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Actually, the story of life itself.

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The complete account of the shaping of Africa's landscape

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that has been hidden from us by the dominance of just one way of looking at the world.

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Almost 50 years earlier,

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an entomologist called Kattwinkel was chasing butterflies through the wilds of Serengeti

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when events took a remarkable twist near the edge of a rocky gorge.

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He had spotted a butterfly that he particularly wanted and Kattwinkel followed it down into the bushes.

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Presumably, he found a number of butterflies,

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but he also found fossilised remains

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of extinct mammals.

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Kattwinkel had stumbled upon Oldupai Gorge,

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one of the most famous sites of early human history known today.

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The real significance of Oldupai wasn't immediately clear, not until after the Second World War

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when a controversial paleoanthropologist and his wife focused their attention

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on Kattwinkel's scrubby, remote gorge.

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It wasn't long before Louis and Mary Leakey revealed a sensational new find.

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Zinjanthropus boisei, as they called it,

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was estimated to be nearly two million years old,

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at the time, the oldest human-like creature ever found.

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And that got the world very excited about the great antiquity of humanity

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and the presence of humanity in one form or the other in Africa

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and, presumably, in some way relating to the spread from Africa to other parts of the world.

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And just 30 miles south of Oldupai is Laetoli.

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Here, Mary later found footprints -

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three apes walking upright across the savanna

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three and a half million years ago.

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Clearly, bipedal apes, creatures that walked habitually on two legs,

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from which we are descended in one way or the other,

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were in Africa at least four million years ago

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and it's the oldest record of bipedalism that's been found anywhere in the world

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and clearly the African apes, of which we are one, were derived from that ancient fauna.

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The very latest evidence suggests that the presence in Serengeti of humans

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and the ancestors of humans from so far back in time is no coincidence.

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Because of a quirk of nature,

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grasses and trees have a different way of turning sunlight into food.

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When they die, they leave slightly different forms of carbon in the earth.

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Analysis of these signature traces has led to startling conclusions

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about the true nature of the African savanna.

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Over time, the amount of tree cover has fluctuated drastically between two extremes -

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on one hand, a forest, on the other, a grassland.

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And the main force behind these cycles is the climate.

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CRACK OF THUNDER

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What we've seen, major changes in rainfall conditions,

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so that we have had droughts, some of them have lasted

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for 30,000 years, where clearly this whole system would have been completely different.

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And the other thing that we've known from all of this is that they changed incredibly fast.

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It could take only 20 years for it to flip from one to another.

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CRACK OF THUNDER

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What it means in terms of what we see today and the future is that nothing stays the same.

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And it is this changing nature of the savanna

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that in turn influences everything.

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It is the dynamic of habitat change that drives evolution.

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If everything had remained pristine whenever that moment was,

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then we certainly wouldn't be here anyway

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because there would have been no pressure for an ape to stand up in the first place.

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The more we find out, the more a picture of humans

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as an integral part of the savanna ecosystem from the earliest times begins to emerge.

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And soon, early humans started to exert their influence on the landscape.

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With fire, they could start to tip the natural balance of the savanna to their advantage,

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pushing back woodland to open up grassland.

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I think it's been shaped and reshaped time and time again for the last...

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at least a million years, and certainly since fire became a factor

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because even the early hunter-gatherers would have used fire to get rid

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of some of the coarser grazing to create these patches of greenness that then attracted in wildlife.

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So I have no doubt whatsoever

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that the hunter-gatherer going back half a million years plus was a major agent of using fire in the Serengeti.

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As geological time gave way to historical time,

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the human influence over the environment moved into a new phase.

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When cattle came down into that area some four, four and a half thousand years ago,

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they would have had a huge impact from opening up the countryside

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and I think herders would have frequently set fire to bush to clear areas for grass.

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What the pastoralist is trying to do is get rid of the tree cover and create more grassland,

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so fire for them becomes a very important tool

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in making the savannas more savanna-like, and this is the irony to me.

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If you take away fire and you take away the pastoralist,

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you end up with lots of thickets and bush over much of Africa.

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And by changing the nature of the savanna, you also change the nature of the savanna's wildlife.

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And it's going to increase the ratio of the grazing animals like the zebra and the wildebeest,

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compared with the browsing animals like impala and giraffe.

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Though ultimately it's the climate that drives places like Serengeti,

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over time, humans became a key part in fine-tuning its characteristic nature.

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By the time the earliest maps started emerging from Victorian explorers of the late 1800s,

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we can see the extent to which people had begun to dominate the landscape around Serengeti.

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In the eastern side of our system, we have pastoralists.

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You can't conduct agriculture on the plains. They cannot support that sort of thing.

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They're not the right soils and it's far too dry, so it's really only for pastoralism.

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In contrast to that, we have agriculturalists in the west

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and these people are largely from what's called the Bantu group

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and they came from the Congo. They arrived in the 1500s.

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And in between, the Wandorobo with a specialism for elephant hunting.

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The most recent people to arrive in the area have in many ways become the most iconic - the Maasai,

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arriving from the north of Kenya and Sudan as recently as the 1800s.

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They later won the respect of the colonials, largely as a result of their fierce warrior reputation.

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But their success was much more to do with the way they saw their cows

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and the wild animals of the savanna as part of the same fabric of survival

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and for wildlife and Maasai alike,

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the key to survival here is movement.

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The Maasai have really perfected the art of making sure that they use their ecosystem

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in a way that they do not necessarily deplete it, but they move about.

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For instance, they've got a dry season area where they graze their animals during the drought period.

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They've got an area where they move to when it is rainy.

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They use the hooves of the cow to cultivate their ecosystem. Without that, very quickly it can change

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to not necessarily a grassy area, but to more of a thicket and bushy

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that will not have a lot of value for your livestock.

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You try to move about, so you can continue balancing the shrubs, trees and grasses around your ecosystem.

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Until this point in the history of the Serengeti,

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the story was of humans coming to exert more and more control over the landscape and the moving herds,

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quite the opposite of the modern picture of a pristine wild Africa.

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What happened next would change all that.

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In 1891, an Austrian explorer, Oscar Baumann,

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was one of the very first Europeans to travel through the Serengeti.

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His account records first-hand evidence

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of what turns out to be nothing short of the worst human catastrophe ever

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to befall the African continent.

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"There were skeleton-like women with the madness of starvation in their sunken eyes,

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"warriors who could hardly crawl on all fours.

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"There were refugees from the Serengeti

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"where the famine had depopulated entire districts."

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What he was describing were the effects of a colonial invasion,

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not of an army, but of something ultimately much more destructive -

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a virus called rinderpest.

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Rinderpest arrived in Africa,

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as far as we know, for the first time, in 1890,

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brought in with cattle from Egypt

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when the Italians invaded what was called Abyssinia - Ethiopia now.

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It took six years to spread from Ethiopia to the Cape of Good Hope and to West Africa

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and killed off 95% of the cattle.

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With this cattle virus, the whole socioeconomic fabric of pre-colonial Africa collapsed.

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Without meat, without milk, without even the means to pull a plough,

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mass starvation quickly followed on a scale matched in global terms only by the Black Death.

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"Parents offered us their babies in exchange for meat.

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"Swarms of vultures followed them from high, awaiting their certain victims.

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"Such affliction was from now on daily before our eyes."

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I think the reason why rinderpest was a signature impact

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is that it swept through Africa so fast.

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In the best part of a decade, it had moved from Cape to Cairo

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and it devastated livestock populations and, therefore, it devastated pastoral people.

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It was much more than a virus.

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I think it was the loss of a way of life.

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I think there was a loss of a certain meaning.

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If everything you ever imagined life to be was suddenly swept away and swept away so drastically,

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what else is there to hold on to?

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And I think it was such a struggle to reconstruct life again.

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Over the next 20 years, a transformation took hold.

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Across East Africa, human mediated grasslands were now swallowed up

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by the wild African bush.

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Most critically, just at the time that the colonial scramble for Africa was reaching out

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into the remotest parts of the dark continent.

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The impact of rinderpest was to create the impression

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among the incoming explorers and the administrators that the savannas had very few people.

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And I think the unfortunate thing is that that was true for that time,

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but looked at in the bigger historical picture, going back maybe 200 years,

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these would have been prime areas and they would be prime areas again

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once the populations of people and livestock built up again.

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So we're looking at a very low ebb ecologically for the relationship between people and wildlife

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and it had a huge bearing on the way in which conservation went

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and the perception or, let's say, the misperception

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that the colonial governments and even independent governments had on the role of people in the savannas.

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With the shutting out of the local people from the landscape,

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the way was now open for a completely new vision of the African savanna -

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wild, savage and pristine.

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"It is the strong attraction of the silent places,

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"of the large tropic moons and the splendour of the new stars

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"where the wanderer sees the awful glory of sunrise and sunset

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"in the wide waste spaces of the Earth, unworn of Man,

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"and changed only by the slow change of the ages through time everlasting."

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In April 1909, ex-US President Theodore Roosevelt arrived on the shores of East Africa

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for his now famous safari.

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Theodore Roosevelt was probably America's greatest conservation President.

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During his administration,

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the largest amount of public lands was set in forest reserves

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and national parks than probably any other President since.

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Roosevelt was very much of this generation

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that saw nature as an antidote to civilisation.

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And in coming to East Africa, I think that it was part

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of his effort to recapture that long-gone pioneer spirit.

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Here was this great open landscape, very few people,

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and he had a whale of a time over that period of a year.

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Immediately, the great American conservationists set out doing

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what conservationists in those days did - hunt.

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Roosevelt just lined up with specimens and this is the ultimate He-Man, sort of big hunter image.

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But as his lust for the primitive urges of the hunt propelled him on,

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Africa started to stir deep emotions for an age lost to the modern world.

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When I went to the Serengeti for the first time

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and saw those wildebeest, the first thought that came into my head

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was this is what the American West must have looked like before we destroyed all the bison,

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so when someone like Roosevelt saw

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all this game running around,

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he was like, "It hasn't all been squandered. It's still here."

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Here was a last primordial wilderness

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that urgently needed preservation,

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atonement for the losses of the civilised world.

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"All civilised governments are now realising that it is their duty here and there

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"to preserve unharmed tracts of wild nature

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"with thereon the wild things,

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"the destruction of which means the destruction of half the charm of wild nature."

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That's certainly a big part of how conservation in East Africa is talked about.

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It's like something to be protected for all of humanity because it's unique and special now.

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This is a place where it hasn't been destroyed that we should be especially concerned about.

0:27:120:27:18

On his return, however, Roosevelt's adoring public were captivated,

0:27:180:27:23

not by fledgling thoughts of global conservation,

0:27:230:27:27

but by the heroic exploits of the great white hunter.

0:27:270:27:31

Roosevelt's 1911 safari really created a cascade of hunters coming out.

0:27:370:27:43

In East Africa, the British colonial government's initial reaction to controlling this slaughter

0:27:460:27:53

was to create hunting licences,

0:27:530:27:56

but in a place as big as this with just a handful of administrators,

0:27:560:28:01

their power to actually control anything was severely limited.

0:28:010:28:06

Licences were much more effective against the local people.

0:28:060:28:10

With one fell swoop, native hunting became illegal

0:28:110:28:16

because not many natives could go to the towns, the colonial towns,

0:28:160:28:22

the colonial bomas where the colonial administrators were

0:28:220:28:26

to obtain hunting licences.

0:28:260:28:28

So the only form of hunting that then became legal

0:28:280:28:33

was European hunting.

0:28:330:28:35

So there was this complete divide between the trophy hunting colonials

0:28:350:28:40

and the subsistence hunters trying to get at those same animals for meat.

0:28:400:28:45

And the local populations felt very alienated

0:28:450:28:49

that wildlife had become not their customary right,

0:28:490:28:52

but it had become something of a sport, something of a pleasure for the colonial government,

0:28:520:28:58

so again that became a deep antagonism.

0:28:580:29:01

As traditional hunters were branded "poachers",

0:29:010:29:05

hunting and the safari now became the noble pursuit of foreign dignitaries and kings,

0:29:050:29:11

like the future George VI.

0:29:110:29:13

But very soon wild Africa would be available to all with the invention of the portable movie camera.

0:29:150:29:22

Martin and Osa Johnson were among the first to lay down their guns and pick up a camera.

0:29:260:29:32

For some of the time, at least.

0:29:320:29:35

On the trail, Osa's eye catches a slinking figure ahead.

0:29:390:29:42

A lion has caught the scent of his favourite delicacy - zebra.

0:29:420:29:47

While he stalks his prey, guns are dropped, cameras take their place and Martin photographs the action.

0:29:470:29:53

They spent a couple of years in Africa filming wild animals.

0:29:530:29:58

And part of it very much conformed to a vision of Africa

0:29:580:30:04

of ecological paradise.

0:30:040:30:07

The talk about this place that they discovered, Lake Paradise.

0:30:070:30:11

They hadn't discovered it. It had been known by the African people in that area for a long time.

0:30:110:30:18

They very much portrayed it as this Garden of Eden.

0:30:180:30:23

Through the camera lens, the animals of Africa took on new meaning,

0:30:230:30:27

transformed by technology from savage beasts to things of extraordinary beauty.

0:30:280:30:34

And the Johnsons were the first to film from the air.

0:30:400:30:44

Aerial scenes become very important because

0:30:450:30:49

it's a kind of God's eye view of the world and portrays the immensity of the landscape.

0:30:490:30:57

Wildebeest, hundreds upon hundreds of wildebeest, led on by overpowering thirst,

0:30:570:31:02

driven on by the lions that follow.

0:31:020:31:05

If you're filming wildebeest migration, you begin to capture the awe of the sheer scale

0:31:050:31:12

and size of these wildlife populations.

0:31:120:31:16

Though still in black and white, these extraordinary scenes from the early 1930s

0:31:170:31:23

show a surprisingly familiar image of Africa emerging,

0:31:230:31:27

one that we can recognise in wildlife films today.

0:31:270:31:31

Roosevelt's savage, primordial wilderness was evolving into a land of awe-inspiring, majestic beauty,

0:31:310:31:39

even if, ultimately, the audience's need for thrills and spills

0:31:410:31:48

required every scene to climax with a large dose of false jeopardy

0:31:480:31:52

and end up with Osa shooting the main subject.

0:31:520:31:56

Osa lets go another bullet. And Osa Johnson has scored the first lion kill of her life.

0:31:580:32:04

But attitudes were beginning to change

0:32:050:32:08

and soon a few more enlightened hunters began to see the impending end of what had once seemed endless,

0:32:080:32:15

even in the vast expanses of Serengeti.

0:32:150:32:18

There was almost no control of this hunting. It was a free for all.

0:32:200:32:25

And there was, on some occasions, as many as 100 lions shot in one trip.

0:32:250:32:31

This enraged some of the more conscientious professional hunters,

0:32:320:32:38

one of which, Finch Hatton, who features in Out of Africa,

0:32:380:32:43

he wrote a letter to The Times complaining and saying there has to be regulation.

0:32:430:32:49

"And what should one say of the two gentlemen who went to the Serengeti by motor car

0:32:490:32:54

"and killed, between them, 80 lions?

0:32:540:32:57

"Can we think of anything more nauseating? And this is considered sport."

0:32:570:33:03

The last of the great hunters ended up in southern Tanzania,

0:33:030:33:07

people like Rushby and many others.

0:33:070:33:10

They had been the great elephant hunters of the 1920s.

0:33:100:33:14

That whole era came to an end in the 1930s.

0:33:140:33:18

And, ironically, they became the first game wardens.

0:33:180:33:23

They switched from seeing wildlife as endless to realising, in fact,

0:33:230:33:27

this was not an endless resource. It was coming to an end and very quickly.

0:33:270:33:33

Over the following decades,

0:33:350:33:38

it became clear to these early hunter-turned-conservationists

0:33:380:33:43

that to control hunting in Serengeti would be futile without the creation of a protected area.

0:33:430:33:49

So in 1951, after the distraction of the Second World War,

0:33:540:33:59

Serengeti National Park was created, just in time for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

0:34:000:34:06

And that park stretched from Lake Victoria in the west

0:34:060:34:11

and then eastwards to include Ngorongoro Crater and across the plains.

0:34:110:34:16

So it was largely an east-west oriented park.

0:34:160:34:20

But this new national park included people.

0:34:240:34:28

There were still human settlements.

0:34:280:34:31

The Sukuma were still present, the Ngoreme, Kuria and the Maasai,

0:34:310:34:36

but their activities were seriously curtailed.

0:34:360:34:39

In the eyes of the local people, this new protection was incomprehensible.

0:34:390:34:45

What once belonged to everyone now became shambala bibi - the Queen's field.

0:34:450:34:51

Not to say the Queen wouldn't allow them into her field, at first anyway.

0:35:130:35:19

The concept of the national park was alien to the British government.

0:35:190:35:25

The interesting this is that they had it in mind that local people could and had lived with wildlife

0:35:250:35:31

so all you had to do was set these areas aside so they would not be invaded by settlers

0:35:310:35:36

or be hunting areas and it would be fine. It simply didn't work.

0:35:360:35:41

What had been low-level subsistence hunting now became more commercial hunting.

0:35:440:35:50

The towns were growing, there was an urban population with a demand for meat and so the call went out -

0:35:500:35:57

we need meat.

0:35:570:35:59

And where was the largest source of free meat? The Queen's field.

0:35:590:36:05

It was just a question of taking traditional methods and scaling them up.

0:36:050:36:10

What was far more effective was the line trap,

0:36:100:36:14

the miles and miles of traps that people laid, the pit traps and many other traditional means,

0:36:140:36:20

which were now multiplied by a factor of 10 or 20. This became extremely effective.

0:36:200:36:26

At the same time, modernisation was also challenging the colonials' harmonious view

0:36:290:36:35

of the pastoral population.

0:36:350:36:38

The government's own vaccination programmes had all but eradicated rinderpest

0:36:400:36:46

and as the Maasai, in particular, began to move back into lands they had traditionally used,

0:36:460:36:52

they too were beginning to exert a new level of pressure on the wild.

0:36:520:36:57

The role of local people as a dominant force in the environment could no longer be brushed aside.

0:36:570:37:03

The scene was now set for the prevailing image of the African landscape to evolve once more.

0:37:030:37:10

It's in the films of another couple, Armand and Michaela Denis, that this next reinvention of wild Africa

0:37:140:37:20

first appears.

0:37:200:37:22

In Below The Sahara, the modern picture of a fragile paradise threatened by evil man

0:37:230:37:30

first came into popular culture.

0:37:300:37:32

Below The Sahara represents this transformational shift

0:37:350:37:40

in the representation of Africa to one of ecological splendour.

0:37:400:37:45

And really to see man as a threat.

0:37:450:37:48

Flying over game country is the best way to realise the wealth of wildlife which still survives

0:37:480:37:54

in immense Africa. You feel as if the pages of time had been turned back to a more primitive age

0:37:540:38:00

when animals roamed the tropical earth in their countless thousands before man, the enemy,

0:38:000:38:07

man the ravager and destroyer had been born.

0:38:070:38:11

This scene really represents a pristine wilderness,

0:38:110:38:15

nature in its purity

0:38:150:38:18

before man the destroyer had entered the scene.

0:38:180:38:23

And that really sets up this dichotomy, if you will,

0:38:230:38:27

between humans versus nature, that humans can't exist alongside nature

0:38:270:38:33

and humans are always a threat. And that nature needs to be protected from them.

0:38:330:38:40

The Denises were, by now, part of a growing international movement

0:38:410:38:45

that saw the future for African wildlife only in the separation

0:38:450:38:50

of pristine Africa from the dark forces of humanity.

0:38:500:38:54

The political champions of this emerging view were London-based hunter-turned-conservationists.

0:38:590:39:06

The Society for the Preservation of the Fauna of the Empire.

0:39:060:39:11

Some people called it the Penitent Butchers Club because it was made up of a lot of hunters.

0:39:130:39:19

The Serengeti was to be the first

0:39:190:39:23

and the crown jewel of Britain's national parks within the Empire.

0:39:230:39:29

A lot of people felt very passionately about its preservation.

0:39:290:39:33

The SPFE now looked for a way to enforce their growing conviction

0:39:330:39:38

that the Serengeti should be free from the threat of humanity in future.

0:39:380:39:43

Their attention was drawn to another national park for inspiration.

0:39:450:39:49

Not an African park, but an American one.

0:39:500:39:53

Yellowstone, the world's first national park,

0:40:050:40:09

had itself been through a difficult history of uncontrolled poaching

0:40:090:40:14

and conflict over indigenous rights, and had long before established the precedent

0:40:140:40:20

that human rights and conservation don't mix.

0:40:200:40:24

Largely as a result of its high profile relaunch, by none other than Theodore Roosevelt,

0:40:280:40:33

it had long ago become the shining example of world conservation.

0:40:330:40:38

Yellowstone National Park in the United States provided

0:40:400:40:44

a model that was then applied all across the colonial world.

0:40:440:40:49

So Serengeti is the best example of the Yellowstone idea.

0:40:500:40:56

An area of fantastic ecological wonder

0:40:560:40:59

being emptied of the social presence that had been part and parcel of that ecology.

0:40:590:41:05

For the new hard-line conservationists, Yellowstone was the perfect template for Serengeti.

0:41:060:41:12

A park without people.

0:41:140:41:16

But back in East Africa, the local colonial administration wasn't convinced

0:41:160:41:23

that moving people out of Serengeti was a good idea.

0:41:230:41:28

The debate came to focus on the fate of the most numerous people in the park -

0:41:280:41:33

the iconic Maasai.

0:41:330:41:35

There was quite a bit of tension between local colonial administrators

0:41:350:41:40

who understood these people's relationships to place

0:41:400:41:44

and what their livelihoods were about. They said, "You can't just throw these people out of this park.

0:41:440:41:51

"It's going to be catastrophic. Plus, they'll hate it. So if you want that, go ahead and throw them out."

0:41:510:41:58

As the rift grew between the powerful conservationists in London

0:41:590:42:04

and the local colonial government, the future of two completely different visions of wild Africa -

0:42:040:42:10

one with people, one without - was held in the balance.

0:42:100:42:16

In 1956, the British Government tasked a special committee to come up with a solution.

0:42:170:42:23

That recommendation said the Maasai are living in the eastern side

0:42:240:42:29

and therefore what we should do is draw a line down the middle of the plains

0:42:290:42:35

and have the Maasai where they currently are

0:42:350:42:38

and the wildlife on the western side.

0:42:380:42:41

The proposal was a clever compromise.

0:42:410:42:44

To create a Serengeti without people, they would shift the park boundary to the west

0:42:440:42:51

and so avoid having to evict the 6,000 Maasai who lived in the east.

0:42:510:42:56

Because this made the original park much smaller, they would add an extra extension to the north,

0:42:590:43:05

up towards the Kenya border.

0:43:050:43:08

The habit of the human being to try to, em...

0:43:080:43:13

create boundaries around that which is infinite,

0:43:130:43:18

around which he or she cannot really understand, the assumption of control of nature,

0:43:180:43:25

was one of those exercises in futility and nonsense.

0:43:250:43:29

By early 1959, Bernhard Grzimek and his son Michael had been studying the wildebeest herds

0:43:330:43:40

for over a year to try to stop the plans for the proposed new boundaries.

0:43:400:43:45

During the dry season, the majority of the animals are to be found near lake Victoria,

0:43:450:43:51

but as soon as the rain falls and the wide areas of plain turn green,

0:43:510:43:55

the herds begin to move over them.

0:43:550:43:58

And they always come back to the same place as soon as the prolific grass starts to grow again.

0:43:580:44:04

They wander far across the new frontiers of the National Park and remain outside them for months.

0:44:040:44:11

It looked like his findings supported his worst fears.

0:44:120:44:17

The wildebeest would be exposed to the threat of people outside the new park boundaries

0:44:170:44:22

for over half the year.

0:44:220:44:25

His only hope was to now push his vision for a larger, people-free park in his new film.

0:44:270:44:34

The areas around the Serengeti are sparsely inhabited,

0:44:350:44:39

but Africa's coloured population is now increasing as rapidly as the rest of humanity.

0:44:390:44:45

Once the wilderness surrounding the present borders of the park fills up with people, it will be too late.

0:44:450:44:52

But just as he was completing the final scenes of Serengeti Shall Not Die,

0:44:520:44:58

filming was cut short by tragedy.

0:44:580:45:00

Michael, his son and director of the film, was killed.

0:45:000:45:05

A Griffon vulture had collided with the wing of the zebra-striped aeroplane.

0:45:050:45:11

Michael's death had a profound impact on Bernhard Grzimek.

0:45:130:45:17

Michael's body was actually buried on the side of the Ngorongoro Crater.

0:45:170:45:22

And so Bernhard's feeling was that completing the film, throwing himself into its completion,

0:45:220:45:28

was the best way to honour his son's memory.

0:45:280:45:32

In the film, Grzimek took the best of filmmakers before him -

0:45:320:45:37

the visual innovation of the Johnsons and the Denises' passion -

0:45:370:45:43

to create a visual masterpiece, an appeal from the heart for pristine Africa.

0:45:430:45:49

It was an instant box-office hit, winning the 1959 Oscar for Best Documentary,

0:45:570:46:03

and it brought the plight of the Serengeti to the world at large.

0:46:030:46:07

Before it is too late, cannot we at least preserve the Serengeti,

0:46:070:46:12

this last refuge of the giant herds of the African plains, as God created it,

0:46:120:46:18

for the animals and for the people who come after us?

0:46:180:46:22

But by now the British colonial authorities had moved on.

0:46:290:46:34

Just three hours drive to the north of Serengeti,

0:46:370:46:40

the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya was at crisis point,

0:46:400:46:44

giving a terrifying glimpse of just how fragile the colonial hold on Africa could be.

0:46:440:46:50

Tanzania was not a colony. It was a mandate handed over by the League of Nations after WWI

0:46:500:46:56

to lead towards independence.

0:46:560:46:59

The overriding concern for the colonial government right now was not conservation.

0:47:000:47:07

It was to avoid conflict on the road to independence.

0:47:070:47:12

Moving 6,000 Maasai from their homeland to create Grzimek's ultimate pristine park

0:47:140:47:20

was not something they could seriously consider.

0:47:200:47:24

So despite Grzimek's pleas for the wildebeest,

0:47:250:47:29

in 1959, on the dawn of independence, the new boundaries of the National Park were imposed.

0:47:290:47:35

Grzimek thought that the decision

0:47:370:47:40

was a catastrophe.

0:47:400:47:42

And he remained angry about it pretty much throughout his career.

0:47:420:47:46

All was not lost for the wildebeest, however.

0:47:480:47:52

Though they do spend a large part of the year on the eastern plains outside the new park,

0:47:520:47:58

we now know that, completely by chance,

0:47:580:48:01

the new northern extension has become the most important factor for their survival.

0:48:010:48:07

And that was entirely fortuitous. That's actually where the wildebeest go

0:48:090:48:14

at the worst time of year. It is their refuge. Nobody knew that at the time.

0:48:140:48:20

Even Professor Grzimek did not pick up on that, so by an incredible amount of luck,

0:48:200:48:26

we had the very bit of the park which is essential for this migration

0:48:260:48:31

because without that they would all have died.

0:48:310:48:35

And in many ways the most significant point slipped through almost unnoticed.

0:48:390:48:45

Although it was smaller,

0:48:450:48:47

Grzimek and the conservationists had got their park without people.

0:48:470:48:52

And that, ultimately, would be the defining factor in shaping Serengeti's future.

0:48:530:48:59

The Maasai had avoided the worst-case scenario,

0:49:000:49:04

the majority now able to stay put outside the park.

0:49:040:49:08

But to finalise the new people of Serengeti,

0:49:090:49:12

1,000 Maasai, along with their 50,000 cattle, were now moved out.

0:49:120:49:18

For them, this marked the end of a life

0:49:200:49:23

based on the freedom to move across the savanna.

0:49:230:49:27

"We understand we shall not be entitled henceforth

0:49:300:49:34

"to cross the boundary of the new Serengeti National Park,

0:49:340:49:38

"which we have habitually used in the past.

0:49:380:49:41

"We agree to move ourselves, our possessions, our cattle,

0:49:410:49:46

"and all our other animals out of this land by the advent of the next rains."

0:49:460:49:53

Less is known about the effects on the other people who traditionally used the Serengeti.

0:49:540:50:00

The Sukuma, peasant farmers, were pushed westwards.

0:50:000:50:05

The Ngoreme and the Kuria were also pushed further north.

0:50:050:50:10

So the process of creating Serengeti National Park

0:50:100:50:14

was not... was not a peaceful affair.

0:50:140:50:19

There was resistance, but the colonial armed force, the armed might of the colonial state did the job.

0:50:190:50:26

The people moved out.

0:50:260:50:29

By drawing another line on a map,

0:50:290:50:32

this compromise had effectively drawn a line between people and animals in the Serengeti.

0:50:320:50:38

Pristine Africa to the left, people to the right.

0:50:380:50:42

Those rural populations now saw wildlife

0:50:500:50:54

as government animals and so, coming up to independence, it was said by most people I knew

0:50:540:51:01

that as soon as independence comes through, we will take our own wildlife back.

0:51:010:51:08

So there was this incredible threat

0:51:080:51:10

that independence would be a release of the rights to go back and kill wildlife.

0:51:100:51:17

'No nation has the right to make decisions for another nation,

0:51:220:51:27

'no people for another people.'

0:51:270:51:29

In the same year Serengeti's new boundaries were fixed,

0:51:320:51:36

a young history teacher, Julius Nyerere, was preparing to lead his country to independence.

0:51:360:51:42

Tanzania didn't start up under President Nyerere as a socialist state,

0:51:460:51:51

but he very quickly moved into the notion that there was something called African socialism to adopt

0:51:510:51:57

in the development of the state. He was very concerned about the inequity under colonial governments.

0:51:570:52:04

He was very firmly committed to levelling the playing field for all his people in Tanzania

0:52:040:52:10

and I think that's what he did. He saw the vehicle of doing that as African socialism

0:52:100:52:16

because it would create equality.

0:52:160:52:19

It was clear from the start that Nyerere's priorities lay with his people,

0:52:190:52:25

but what would he make of the new National Park

0:52:250:52:29

and a vision of Africa that excluded them?

0:52:290:52:33

In September, 1961, as independence loomed,

0:52:330:52:37

the conservation world held its breath and focused its attention on the Tanzanian town of Arusha.

0:52:370:52:43

Here, a conference of 21 African countries and five international organisations

0:52:430:52:50

had gathered to debate the future of conservation in Africa.

0:52:500:52:55

Julius Nyerere delivered his address to the assembled dignitaries.

0:52:560:53:00

The survival of our wildlife is a matter of grave concern to all of us in Africa.

0:53:020:53:08

We solemnly declare that we will do everything in our power

0:53:080:53:13

to make sure that our children's grandchildren will be able to enjoy

0:53:130:53:18

this rich and precious inheritance.

0:53:180:53:21

These wild creatures and the wild places they inhabit

0:53:230:53:27

are not only important as a resource of wonder and inspiration,

0:53:270:53:31

but are an integral part of our natural resources and our future livelihood and wellbeing.

0:53:310:53:39

Not only had he apparently adopted this foreign idea of pristine nature,

0:53:390:53:45

but there was a commitment to make an absolute priority to look after it for the future.

0:53:450:53:51

In the years following independence, there was an explosion of park building,

0:53:510:53:56

resulting in almost a third of Tanzania's land set aside for wildlife,

0:53:570:54:02

more than any other country today.

0:54:020:54:05

Even in the new socialist Tanzania, the value of tourism would come before human rights.

0:54:090:54:16

The creation of national parks was a grand success.

0:54:170:54:21

It was a great benefit to the nations of Tanzania and Kenya in creating this fabric of parks and reserves,

0:54:210:54:28

which then became the basis of a tourist industry, which rose to number one in the export economy.

0:54:280:54:34

So those have really been the fuel for a lot of our economic growth and are recognised as such.

0:54:340:54:40

Today, Serengeti National Park sees half a million visitors a year

0:54:440:54:49

who generate 10 million for the state.

0:54:490:54:52

It supports conservation of animals within the park

0:54:520:54:56

and helps finance some of the other less profitable parks.

0:54:560:55:01

But as the parks have become more and more successful,

0:55:010:55:05

the expectations of tourists have come to reinforce the pristine vision of Africa.

0:55:050:55:12

# In the jungle, the mighty jungle

0:55:120:55:15

# The lion sleeps tonight... #

0:55:150:55:19

Let's start with the morning. It is a most splendid orange sunrise.

0:55:190:55:26

You raise your eyes and right across the plains, dotted with acacia trees,

0:55:260:55:33

giraffes kind of lollop over.

0:55:340:55:38

To your left, elephants browse. To your right, the distant roar of lions.

0:55:380:55:44

And...

0:55:450:55:46

no people. No human beings to disturb the space,

0:55:460:55:50

save the observer of that particular landscape.

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# The lion sleeps tonight... #

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Serengeti is the essence of wild Africa. This is the real wild Africa, this is timeless.

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This is something that is absolutely outside of any human influence

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and it's one of the few places left in the world like that.

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Our obsession to preserve wild Africa has created a pristine fantasy world,

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a place without people, preserved behind invisible walls.

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It may well work for tourism, and it has played an important role in the preservation of animals.

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The problem is that it's a vision that doesn't take into account the bigger picture.

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Serengeti is not a theme park. It is a real place.

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-CRASH OF THUNDER

-A place whose true nature is one of constant change.

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Nothing is more iconic of Serengeti than the wildebeest migration,

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for many the symbol of primordial permanence.

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But the latest evidence suggests that not so long ago the climate was very different

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and the migration went in a completely different direction to today.

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The bigger ecological picture says that the climate will drive change again.

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If we get serious changes

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in the climatic regime,

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which is highly likely as a result of global warming,

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then there may be required a change in direction of the migration.

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And if that's the case, then we need to make provision for that.

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In the future, if the place where the animals of Serengeti need to be

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falls outside the boundaries of parks, their chances of survival would seem slim

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without a vision for wild Africa that transcends the unnatural divide between people and wilderness.

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In the next programme, we discover how a European idea

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led to the creation of the original pristine wilderness

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in the unnatural history of Yellowstone.

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Subtitles by Subtext for Red Bee Media Ltd - 2011

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Email subtitling@bbc.co.uk

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More than anywhere, the Serengeti is synonymous with wilderness and has even come to represent Africa. But the story of the Serengeti is just as much about humans as it is about wildlife. Right from the origin of our species in Africa, humans have been profoundly shaping this unique wilderness - hunters and pastoralists with cattle and fire, ivory traders and big game hunters, conservationists, scientists, film-makers and even tourists have all played a part in shaping the Serengeti.

Probably most powerful of all was a tiny microbe unknowingly brought to Africa by a small Italian expeditionary force - Rinderpest, a deadly virus that swept through the continent decimating cattle and wildlife alike and forever changing the face of the wild. The Serengeti is far from timeless, it is forever changing - and wherever there is change, the influence of Homo sapiens is not far behind.