Africa’s Wildebeest Migrating to Extinction?
The Wildebeest of Eastern Africa are facing a disruption in their yearly migration which could lead to the extinction of these “wild beast’s” a name given to them from Afrikaans because of their shaggy mane and large horns. Migration is vital to the Wildebeest’s survival; they travel in search of food and water to sustain their population during times of drought. Each year, wildebeest trek 1,800 miles during the Great Migration.
How Nikela Helps
Although Nikela does not have a project that directly protects the Wildebeest many awareness campaigns address the plight of Africa’s endangered and threatened wildlife species as a whole. Actually Nikela is for preserving all wild things and their wild places.
More About Wildebeests
DISTRIBUTION & HABITAT:
Wildebeests are found mainly in grassy plains and open woodlands of central, southern, and eastern Africa, particularly the Serengeti in Tanzania and Kenya. They travel in large herds and are active day and night, grazing constantly. Their spectacular northward migration in search of greener pastures is dictated by weather patterns, but usually takes place in May or June. It is considered one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on Earth, involving up to 1.5 million wildebeests as well as hundreds of thousands of other animals, including zebra and gazelle.
There are two different species of wildebeest, the blue or brindled gnu (c. taurinus) and the black or white tailed gnu (c. gnou); they are both members of the Bovidae family. The adults range from 250-600 pounds, stand between 4 and 5 feet tall and are dark in color. These stocky animals have large horned heads, dark manes and bushy tails they are quite powerful, agile and fast. Their hooved feet are essential to their migration, allowing them to travel quickly across the land and at speeds up to 40 miles per hour.
Wildebeest are herbivores that forage for leaves, grass, ferns fungi and fruit.
BEHAVIOR & SOCIALIZATON:
Wildebeest live in large herds that can range from 150 to several thousand. Living in a herd helps to protect the individual members from predator attacks. There are several wildebeest predators, including lions, hyenas and cheetahs. When the herd stops to rest or sleep they do so in rows on the ground; this enables them to monitor their surroundings from several different directions at the same time.
If danger is spotted by one of the herds “lookouts” the wildebeest uses a loud groaning type call to alert the other members of the herd. Once alerted the whole herd begins to run together in the same direction, creating a stampede that generally dispels the predators attack. Wildebeest herds have also been known to stay close to Zebras, who are threatened by the same predators, thus providing an added layer of protection.
CONSERVATION & THREATS:
Wildebeest have become much less common in some areas where they were once abundant in southern and eastern Africa. Wildebeest are considered “keystone species” by some scientists. That means the animals have a large impact on the ecosystems in which they live. Their grazing and migratory behaviors affect many other species – some for better, some for worse. Wildebeest serve as prey for large carnivores, especially lions. Generally, wildebeest create beneficial conditions for other large mammals.
Human populations are growing, especially within the eastern range, which is reducing and fragmenting wildebeest habitat. More humans increase the need for food. Poaching wildebeest for food is becoming more common. Livestock farms are further encroaching on wildebeest habitat and the wild animals and livestock are not always compatible in the eyes of people. Some government programs have deliberately killed wildebeest in some areas to try (unsuccessfully) to eradicate livestock diseases. Fences meant to keep livestock and wildlife apart have cut off wildebeest migration routes, preventing herds from reaching water during dry seasons.
Contributed by Nikela Volunteer Alisa Wong
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