Wildebeest Calving Has Begun!
Every green season on the Southern Serengeti Plains (either during January or February depending upon certain factors) one of the most amazing wildlife spectacles occurs when the largest mass of migrating animals on the planet gives birth. But, let’s back up for a minute to see where it all began.
The annual wildebeest breeding season or ‘rut’ takes place when the migration moves off the plains in May. During a three period around 90% of the mature cows are bred. It is anarchy on the Serengeti Plains during this time with the mass movement of animals combined with the rut. Territorial bulls round up cows and stake out temporary territories in an all out effort to breed with as many females as possible. Rival males fight by bashing heads to gain access to neighboring territories.
Eight and a half months later the cows drop their calves (roughly 400,000 animals) on the open Serengeti plains to the south and east of the park. Unlike most other animals that seek cover when giving birth, pregnant wildebeest gather on the open plains and synchronize their birthing withing a two to three week window. No other herbivore in the Serengeti has such a pronounced birth spike. The goal is perhaps to all at once ‘flood the market’ with hundreds of thousands of new born calves in hopes that the predators can only capture a limited number before becoming satiated. After about 7 minutes calves can stand and after about two days they can out distance hyenas.
The calving came early this year due to the higher then usual precipitation and the early onset of the rains, which created an abundance of nutritional grazing and standing water (both ideal conditions for nursing mothers).
In some years, such as this season, the calving starts as early as mid January while in drought years we have seen the wildebeest delay the birthing until March when conditions were more favorable. In one year we actually saw the wildebeest giving birth in the Central Serengeti Woodlands (a good 30 miles north of their traditional birthing grounds on the South Serengeti Plains. The wildebeest is an incredibly adaptable animal. It is this quality along with its ability to migrate great distances that makes it the most successful animal in the Serengeti.