Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Wednesday is for Wildabeest . . .

Wildabeest in the Serengheti (Camp 2012)
I found the wildabeest entrancing for its long beard and calm stare.We were lucky to see a small migration of several thousand wildabeest, led by zebras north to Kenya on our recent trip to Tanzania. At first blush, I thought these animals, grazing so placidly, were rather like cows.

But survival on the Serengheti plains requires alertness, and these seemingly bucolic animals are pretty smart. When on the move, their young are placed in the center of the herd so that predators cannot cut them out. Some wildabeest take turns standing guard, while others sleep, for lions, cheetahs, and leopards go on the hunt at night and even during the day, in the grasslands where they can be easily spotted. When the wildabeest cross the rivers, crocodiles are a fearsome predator. But the strength and size of the wildabeest (up to 600 pounds) do not make for easy prey.

The wildabeest listen to other animals. For example, we heard the zebras whistle and snort when driving the wildabeest along their journey during the beginning of the little rainy season. I learned that the wildabeest also listen to the alarm cries of baboons.

Once again, humans are the greatest threat to these immense herds which depend on large open spaces for their twice-yearly migrations, following the rains to better pasture. New roads and illegal poaching challenge conservationists to protect these wildabeest, which means "wild beast" in Dutch or "wild cattle" in Afrikaans.

This nearly three-minute video from National Geographic gives a sense of the majesty of this Great Migration. But I still like their wise beards and quite surprising intelligence.


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