Changes in populations of several ungulate species in the Serengeti-Mara region of East Africa over the past 30 years suggest several hypotheses for their regulation and coexistence. Recent censuses in the 1980s have allowed us to test the hypotheses that: (1) there was competition between wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) and Thomson's gazelle (Gazella thomsoni). This predicted that gazelle numbers should have declined in the 1980s when wildebeest were food limited. Census figures show no change in gazelle numbers between 1978 and 1986, a result contrary to the interspecific competition hypothesis; (2) wildebeest and African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) populations were regulated by intraspecific competition for food. Since both populations reached food limitation in the 1970s, the hypothesis predicted that the populations should have been stable in the 1980s. The results confirm these predictions for wildebeest and the buffalo population in the Mara reserve. In the Serengeti the buffalo population declined 41% over the period 1976–1984. The decline was not evenly distributed over the park, some areas showing an 80–90% decline, others no change or an increase in numbers. The decline was associated with proximity to human habitation; (3) an outbreak of the viral disease, rinderpest, in 1982 may have been the cause of the drop in buffalo population. Blood serum samples to measure the prevalence of antibodies were collected from areas of decreasing, stable and increasing populations. If rinderpest was the cause of decrease there should be a negative relationship between the prevalence of rinderpest and the instantaneous rate of increase (r). The results showed no relationship. We conclude that rinderpest was not the major cause of the drop in buffalo numbers. Elephant (Loxodonta africana) numbers dropped 81% in Serengeti in the period 1977–1986. In the Mara there was little change. The evidence suggests that extensive poaching in northern and western Serengeti during 1979–1984 accounted for the drop in both elephant and buffalo numbers.