Story by Rebeka Woods
Photo Illustrations by Rebeka Woods

Biologist and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Sean B. Carroll  introduced the resiliency of nature with his Serengeti Rules Last October at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach.

LBCC student Krystina Aguirre came to check out the lecture,  as a student interested in nursing.  “It has absolutely nothing to do with my future goals but I was interested in the populations decline of animals,” she said.  “It amazed me, the fact that they brought back plant species as well as animals.”

Carroll said that he has always been interested in science, biology in particular since he was a “kid watching TV”.  Fascinated with the Serengeti and all it has to offer, Carroll took a flight out there to meet with Tony Sinclair a specialist on Buffalo.

The Serengeti is a region extending from Southern Tanzania to North-Western Kenya.

Sinclair,  originally a ornithologist became transfixed with the fact that buffalo and wildebeest populations were growing immensely in this region and wanted to find out why.

Sinclair and his team began by flying above the herds in a helicopter and counting them.

The population was continuously increasing despite the absence of any ecological or biological reason.

He realized that the disease Rinderpest, which is an infection common in cattle that causes dysentery, health issues, and often results in death, was nowhere to be found.

The amount of predators and food supply remained constant.The only explanation remaining was lack of the disease; Rinderpest.

Sinclair and his team discovered that a nearby cattle farmer had inoculated his cows against the disease, so he hypothesized that the buffalo and wildebeest populations had somehow come into contact with the immunized cattle and are now immune to the disease. Even their offspring.

This got Carroll to thinking about how plant and animal populations grow, so he constructed the Serengeti Rules which he’s shared at places including Carnegie Mellon University.


A visual diagram of Sean Carroll’s Serengeti Rules. Information graphic by Rebeka Woods


The rules are not about the Serengeti itself rather than the rules that govern it that govern every other aspect of nature as well.

“Every place is a Serengeti, I mean even a leaf on a rosebud in your garden”, Carroll says. “The Serengeti was just a place where there was a lot going on that could be more easily studied.”

Carroll enlightened his audience with his findings and the many high school and college students in class lined up after to ask him questions.

In fact he is very well known amongst biology professors according to head of the biology department at Long Beach City College, Daniel Nigro.

He believes that animal and plant species can bounce back just as they did in the Serengeti “If we stop influencing them.”

Carroll’s teachings are brought to life in classrooms of colleges and high schools everywhere.

“Almost all biologists know him . . . he makes many documentaries.”

The biologist is head of the science education department at Howard Hughes Medical Institute and volunteers for different speaking opportunities. He has authored many books, including “The Serengeti Rules”, “Endless Forms, Most Beautiful”, and “The Making of the Fittest”.