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If I called the animal a 'gnu' (Connochaetes taurinus), you may well be confused. But you will, I am sure, recognise the more common Africaans name of 'wildebeest'. An African plains antelope, it looks like it was designed by a committee, with head & shoulders like a buffalo, a rear end like a horse, large horns & a white beard! It dominates the plains of Africa by its sheer numbers. Its young, perhaps half a million of them each year, are born in a 2 to 3 week period at the start of the rainy season. Amazingly, the young can stand & run within minutes of birth. And they need to, as predators, principally lions & hyena, feast on the young & weak.
The northern variety, the white-bearded gnu, follows a migratory course each year as it searches for good grazing. The spectacle of that migration is surely one of the most amazing sights in nature. The vast herds of wildebeest, zebra & Thomson's gazelles travel a course that takes them in July & August north-west from the Serengeti plains to near to Lake Victoria & then east to the Masai Mara game reserve in Kenya. Along the way they must cross two rivers, the Grumeti & the Mara. At each of those difficult crossings, huge crocodiles await their annual feast, & gorge themselves upon animals struggling in the water. Many do not reach the safety of the far shore but the majority do. Those unlucky enough to be caught meet, alas, a grisly fate. The herds remain on the Masai Mara grasslands until October or November. By then the grass is all gone & they must again move on. As the rains commence, they head south once more to their breeding grounds, now lush again from the abundant rainfall. So it has been for ever. Let us hope that it continues for ever also.
There are in fact two species, the brindled or blue wildebeest of the south & the the white bearded wildebeest of the north. The image above, taken in the Kalahari is of the blue wildebeest, so Deirdre advises me. There would also seem to be, however, a white-tailed gnu, or black wildebeest, a smaller animal once abundant in South Africa. It would appear to be extinct in the wild, but is protected in parks & reserves, where its numbers are said to be increasing.
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