in one of the great wonders of the natural is world, the wildebeest migration sees over two million animals migrate from the serengeti national park in tanzania to the greener pastures of the maasai mara national reserve in kenya.
during the short dry season of january, eight months after the rut, wildebeest cows drop their young in a synchronized birthing that sees some 300,000 to 400,000 calves born within two to three weeks of one another.this is an evolutionary strategy that ensures fewer young will be eaten, as a surfeit of prey in a very short period results in the predators’ becoming satiated and unable to consume as much as they would if the calving happened over a longer time span.
a newborn wildebeest gains coordination faster than any other ungulates and is usually on its feet two to three minutes after birth. it can run with the herd at the age of five minutes and is able to outrun a lioness soon thereafter. within one week of birth, wildebeest can run 100 meters in less than 8 seconds.
wildebeest need to eat grass for 16 hours a day, and with the short raining season ending in november, more than two million will make their way to the mara river. the journey, however, is fraught with danger, even though more will die from being trampled by other wildebeest in the river than by a predator.
it remains somewhat of a mystery as to how wildebeest know which direction to travel. it is probably instinctive knowledge, etched into their dna by hundreds of thousands of years of natural selection; over the millennia, those wildebeest that went the ‘wrong’ way would have died of thirst and starvation before they could reproduce, so the wildebeest that lived to produce the future generations were the ones that went the ‘right’ way.
photos (click pic) by karen lunney, nicole cambre, fredrico veronesi, adam kuczma, pia dierickx, irene nathanson, murray macdonald, oliver von holzing