The Wildebeest: One Of The Rare Animals Of The African Savannas

The Wildebeest: One Of The Rare Animals Of The African Savannas.

The Wildebeest: One Of The Rare Animals Of The African Savannas

The wildebeest is one of the rare animals of the African savannas which is not threatened by man. This one could, however, in imitation of his distant ancestors, decide soon to put it on his menu. In the meantime, the huge herd of one million head continues to roam the savannas of Tanzania during its annual migration.

Introduction:

The grassy savannas of East and Southern Africa are home to, within a varied fauna, the two current species of wildebeest, the blue wildebeest (or black-tailed wildebeest) and the black wildebeest (or white-tailed wildebeest). When the desert was occupied by wooded savannas, the wildebeest, a large herbivorous beast, covered a much larger area. 300,000 or 400,000 years ago, he lived in the Sahara, where remains have been unearthed in the Ajjer tassili, in Algeria. In those ancient times, it was hunted for its meat. It was still present in North Africa around 10,000 years ago. Wildebeests are ruminant mammals, from the Bovidae family. Despite their singular appearance, they are classified among the antelopes, alongside the hartebeest and damalisques, with which they constitute the subfamily of the alkelaphines,

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If bovids, which appeared around 16 million years ago, are present in Asia, Europe, Africa, and America, alkelaphines only exist in Africa. The hartebeest were the first alkelaphines to differentiate, around 5 million years ago. Oreonagor tournoueri lived in Algeria 3 million years ago, probable ancestor of the genus Connochaetes, to which the wildebeest belong. This genus would have appeared some 2 million years before our era, but the two lineages that led to the two present-day wildebeest species would not have separated until about a million years later.

In Tanzania lived Connochaetes taurinus olduvaiensis, ancestor of the blue wildebeest, Connochaetes taurinus. It was distinguished from the latter by its horns placed more forward on the skull. The black wildebeest, Connochaetes gnou, is thought to have originated in northern South Africa, where its remains have been found in many places. Its ancestor is Connochaetes Africanus, followed by now-extinct subspecies of black wildebeest, such as Connochaetes gnou laticornutus and, more recently, Connochaetes gnou antiquus. It is essentially the shape of the horns that differentiates them from the current species.

Nowadays, the wildebeest are still numerous enough to offer us the magnificent spectacle of their migrations.

The Life Of The Wildebeest:

The Wildebeest: One Of The Rare Animals Of The African Savannas

Grasses in all forms:

Large herds of wildebeest bring together several thousand animals without any real social structure, outside the rutting season. They are diurnal animals, especially active in the morning and evening. The wildebeest, which the rainy season disperses in herds across the grassy expanses, graze all day long, and even at night unless the heat forces them to stop.

For biologist Sinclair, who studied wildebeest in Serengeti Park (Tanzania), an adult animal whose exercise is moderate eats every day the equivalent of 3.12 kg of dry grass, or 2.4% of its weight, which benefits the best since 82% of the food absorbed is converted into metabolizable energy. It builds up fat reserves, vital for this nomad who is never guaranteed to find the same quantity or the same quality of food.

The wildebeest feeds mainly on grasses, abundant in savannas, such as Themeda triandra, a wild oat from East Africa, Pennisetum mezianum, Digitaria macroblephara, Cynodon dactylon, or African quackgrass. He sometimes picks a few succulents or wild melons to quench his thirst, and also leaves of shrubs. The choice of the wildebeest does not depend on the abundance of plants but on its food preferences. Thus, wild oats represent 54.9% of its diet, against 5.5% of Pennisetum mezianum and 9.4% of Digitaria macroblephara, while these three plants respectively constitute 22.5%, 24.8%, and 19, 7% of the grassy carpet.

The wildebeest cuts the plants with its teeth, without pulling them out, and swallows them without chewing, choosing above all the young shoots less than 10 cm high. The protein content of the grasses on which it feeds is indeed maximum at the start of their growth, after the start of the rains.

In the dry season, the sun scorches the savanna and food becomes scarce. The wildebeest then supplements its diet with other grasses, in order to compensate for the lower abundance of its favorite species: its diet is more varied than in the rainy season. In the acacia savannas of the Masai plain, Kenya, it consumes 23 different types of grass in the dry season compared to 17 in the rainy season.

The wildebeest will drink in general morning and evening when it finds water nearby, but it is able to go without drinking for 2 to 5 days. It is, however, more dependent on water than other savanna herbivores: researchers Western and Grimsdell noted that the density of wildebeest in Amboseli Park is 14 animals per km 2 within 5 km of a water point, then decreases. Beyond 15 km, we no longer meet wildebeest. In comparison, the density of Grant's gazelles is always less than 2 per km 2, but they move away up to 35 km from the water point.

A Male Who Rules A Harem:

The Wildebeest: One Of The Rare Animals Of The African Savannas

Green grass, which covers the Serengeti at the start of the rainy season, is essential for the survival of newborns, as breast milk is not enough to ensure their growth. Also, the reproduction cycle of the wildebeest is adapted to this constraint.

It is the possession of a territory that allows the male of reproductive age to attract females and mate. In the Ngorongoro crater, the more sedentary animals defend their territory for weeks or months, but the migrating Serengeti bulls only demarcate their territory during the rutting season.

To mark his territory, the male engages in ritual demonstrations: bellowing, he tramples, proudly raises his head, plows the ground with his horns, wallows on the ground, defecates, urinates, and deposits secretions on the grass or the trunks. Of its preorbital glands. When a rival arises, the two males face off in a spectacular duel. The fight ends most of the time without injury by the departure of the dominated male. Males who have not been able to conquer territory stay away, as do groups of young males unfit for reproduction.

Male wildebeest rule over a harem that includes 2 to 150 females accompanied by their young. The male, sporting a domineering air, trots around them, forcing them to regroup. As the rut continues when migration begins, the male's territory becomes itinerant. He then has difficulty in containing his females, which are only gathered during the halt and disperse as soon as the march resumes. But he continues to defend them, both from other males and predators. In the latter case, he usually does not flee, but faces his attacker, gallops around, snorts, and jumps before attacking.

Long And Impressive Migrations:

The Wildebeest: One Of The Rare Animals Of The African Savannas

As the rainy season draws to a close in May, the time to migrate to the wetter pastures of the Northwest approaches.

The animals, in the grip of unusual excitement, make hear the "wildebeest ... wildebeest ..." to which the species owes its name. The herds come together to form an immense herd comprising males, females, and young, without any particular hierarchy. Then begins the prodigious spectacle of their long procession, accompanied by a concert of mooing. Scientists assume that lightning from thunderstorms, visible for several hundred kilometers, trigger migration and guides animals to new grazing areas. But sometimes the rains do not fall, and the long transhumance ends in a region devoid of green grass.

Migration is influenced by the number of rains and the numbers of herds and their direction or period may vary.

To Know Everything About The Wildebeest:

The Wildebeest: One Of The Rare Animals Of The African Savannas

Blue Or Black-Tailed Wildebeest (Connochaetes Taurinus):

The wildebeest, classified among the antelopes, cannot be confused with any other animal. Its curious silhouette seems to be made up of different parts of other animals: the front of an ox, supporting a disproportionate head with muskox horns and a goat beard, a lean zebu body, finally slender legs, a mane, and a ponytail. The shoulders are strong and slightly higher than the croup, the back is sloping. The female is distinguished from the male-only by a slightly smaller size and smaller horns. The coat of the adult is a rather dull slate gray, marked with darker stripes that fade at the level of the rump. The upper face of the muzzle, the mane, and the tip of the tail are brown. The calf is mahogany color, with a black muzzle and a darker stripe on the head, neck, and back. It takes on the color of the adult around the age of 2 months.

The skull is tilted relative to the spine. When we observe a wildebeest, we see that its muzzle points towards the ground: its eyes are thus found in a horizontal position, allowing it to watch the surroundings while lowering its head to pick its food.

The head, massive, is extended by the narrow, long and flat muzzle, and has a small forelock on the forehead and a median tuft of black hairs on the muzzle.

Both males and females have horns. Those of the females are thinner and shorter than those of the male, reaching 30 to 40 cm, against 83 cm in the latter. The horns are little used for defense but are rather used for intimidation and ritual fights between the males at the time of rut.

Wildebeests are generally aloud. These gregarious animals thus never cease to inform each other about the dangers that await the herd or about their own emotional state: fear, anger, or heat. Excited, the bull snorts, paws, utters serial growls, snores, mows, and various shrill cries. Females utter similar calls.

Sight, hearing, and smell are essential for detecting the many predators which constantly harass the herds. These senses are also involved in the various behaviors; the sense of smell plays, in particular, a role of first-order in the recognition of the partner or the little one.

The wildebeest is an unguligrade. Its long and slender limbs make it one of the swiftest herbivores in the savanna: its only defense being flight, it scurries off quickly at the slightest alarm. Its pointed hooves leave recognizable traces on the ground.

Like all ruminants, the wildebeest has teeth adapted to its diet. The incisors and canines, absent from the upper jaw, are replaced by a bony plateau which allows the animal to pull out the grass by wedging it with the lower incisors. Teeth wear steadily over time, and the height of the crown of the first and third molars has been found to be related to the age of the animal.

The grass is first soaked in saliva then swallowed and predigested in the rumen; secondly, it is returned to the mouth to be crushed and re-swallowed.

The species is not threatened. Its total population is estimated at 1,550,000 individuals including 1,300,000 for the Serengeti population.

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