National Geographic : 2010 Nov
EDITOR'S NOTE PHOTO: CHRIS JOHNS Cape buffalo on the move in Botswana's Okavango Delta play a vital role in the region's ecosystem. I awoke at sunrise to a day on the Serengeti Plain that scarcely resembled the peaceful night before. The landscape that had been so quiet and empty was filled with thousands of wildebeests. They had followed the rain in search of grass, but this hardly seemed like an organized migration. It was anarchy in motion; wildebeests bucked and staggered in tight circles. They are comical- looking animals. African folklore says they were made from spare parts left from the creation of other beasts, but their role in sustaining the Serengeti is serious. Their migratory patterns are critical. Bison once played a similar role on the North American prairie. In 1806 William Clark wrote: "I assended to the high Country and from an eminance I had a view of... a greater number of buffalow than I had ever seen before at one time. I must have seen near 20,000 of those animals feeding on this plain." When Clark journeyed west with Meriwether Lewis, tens of millions of bison lived on the grasslands, shaping vegetation, dispersing seeds, coexisting with burrowing owls and prairie dogs. By the late 1800s bison had been hunted nearly to extinction. Fortunately, many other migratory spectacles survive. This month the world of migrations comes to life on the pages of our magazine, on the National Geographic Channel, and at nationalgeographic.com. Our photographers and writers spent two years on the project. They were astonished and inspired by the determination and grace of these animals. I am sure you will be too.