March 25, 2009

Welcome to the first post of our ‘Galloping Gnu News’ where we intend to communicate real time and factual reports on the whereabouts of great wildebeest migration. But first, let us introduce the star of this Serengeti drama, the white-bearded gnu or wildebeest.

Africans named it gnu (say “nu”) for the honking sounds gnus make as they migrate. Dutch settlers in South Africa named them wildebeest. They look peculiar, with skinny legs, big shoulders, a heavy shaggy head and hooked horns. It has been jokingly said gnus were “designed by a committee and assembled from spare parts”. But this ungainly looking creature has not only survived over the last 2 million yeas (as evidenced by fossil records at Olduvai Gorge), it has become the dominate herbivore in the Serengeti. Its survival on the african safari for such a long time must mean that the gnu is well designed for its job.

Take a close look at a gnu’s head: its face is long, its eyes are near the top of its head, so the gnu can see over long grass and all around to spot predators while grazing. Its long eyelashes keep the dust out of its eyes, its nostrils can be closed to keep out the dust. Its wide square mouth enables it to crop short grass incredibly efficiently. And most importantly, its migratory habits help the gnu to make the best use of an ever changing environment be it droughts or times of abundance. In its millions the gnu certainly makes the Serengeti the greatest wildlife viewing area in the world.

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