Tourists Amazed By Serengeti Wildebeest Calving

wildebeest, Serengeti
February is a special time on the Serengeti. Right now its population of some 1.5 million wildebeests are giving birth to an estimated 8,000 calves a day, the Tanzania Daily News reports.

The East African nation has seen some 16,500 tourists come to watch the event in Serengeti National Park, including 5,800 domestic visitors who are part of a growing African middle class that’s boosting tourism across the continent.

This mass calving happens every year. All the pregnant wildebeests give birth within the same period of a few weeks, a process called “synchronized calving.” The animals give birth while standing up or even moving around, and wildebeest calves are walking within a couple of minutes. Once all the pregnant wildebeest have calved, the whole herd heads out.

These adaptations help protect the calves from predators. You can bet that hyenas, lions and other sharp-toothed critters are flocking to the area along with the tourists. Wildebeests are also hunted by humans to make a kind of jerky called biltong. This is legal in some parts of Africa although, of course, not in the park. One Tanzanian scientist estimated that half the calves will get eaten or die from other causes during the wildebeest’s 600-mile migration.

[Photo courtesy user zheem via Flickr]

Tanzania Game Reserve at Risk

First, a highway through the Serengeti, now, a uranium mine in Selous Game Reserve. Tanzania’s plans are drawing the ire of environmentalists, conservationists, and zebra-and-wildebeest huggers around the world. The government is eying Tanzanian game and park lands for developments that are in direct conflict with migrating wildlife, potentially risking their only sustainable economic sector: tourism. From an eTurbo News article:

Tourism is potentially the most important sustainable economic sector for Tanzania. We can make more money over a longer term, and create more jobs, earn more forex, and introduce more investment than mining Uranium in the Selous. The mine might last maybe 25 or 30 years, and the environmental damage will be huge. Once the resource has been plundered, I have really no other description, it will be the same like with our gold deposits. The ‘investors’ will move on and leave us with giant holes in the ground and massive destruction.

The Selous Game Reserve is home to elephants, black rhinos, giraffes, hippos, crocodiles and hundreds of bird species. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site occupying over 20,000 square miles of Tanzanian savanna. Access to the reserve is supposedly tightly managed — there are no permanent structures human habitation allowed — but poaching is still a problem. And there are those valuable minerals in the ground, tempting short term exploration and exploitation with potentially permanent long term consequences. From the UNESCO listing for the Selous Game Reserve:

The most significant threats are related to exploration and extraction of minerals, oil and gas, and large infrastructure plans; environmental impact assessments need to be conducted for all development activities in the vicinity of the property that are likely to have an impact of the property’s Outstanding Universal Value.

A BBC report says that the government is determined to push the uranium mining project though in spite of objections. From the BBC:

…the uranium mining project was in its infancy, but it would only affect about 0.69% of the current World Heritage site park and would be an important source of income for the country

Firms could expect to earn $200m (£125m) each year from mining uranium from the site, of which $5m would be paid to the government…

It’s unclear if the profit is worth the potential long term damage.

Photo by Bierbauer via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Mother hippo rescues a baby wildebeest in Kenya – African wildlife

African wildlife - Mother hippo rescues a baby wildebeest in KenyaSometimes, strange and wonderful things happen within the world of African wildlife. A few weeks ago at Sanctuary Olonana, a luxury camp in the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya, Mother Nature looked the other way while the nature of a mother hippo took over.

An infant wildebeest accidentally ended up in the middle of the Mara River, helpless and gangly and unable to swim. The calf had been crossing the river with its own mother (as part of the wildebeest migration, one of the natural wonders of the world), but was swept away by the strong current. The little guy wasn’t doing too well and a crocodile began to circle.


A nearby female hippo caught sight of the struggling calf and nearby croc, and swam to his rescue. Guests watched anxiously for an intense fifteen minutes as she gently pushed the baby wildebeest to the shore where his mother was waiting — a heroic and noble act by a notably aggressive animal. There’s no actual proof that she’s a mother hippo, but with maternal instincts like that, which stretched even beyond her species, I’m guessing that either she is, or she’s going to be.

These touching photos were taken by the Sanctuary Olonana camp manager, who watched along with the guests and staff of the camp. I can only imagine the cheering when the baby wildebeest was finally brought to safety.

A zebra trots down to watch the action:
African wildlife - Mother hippo rescues a baby wildebeest in Kenya

The hippo gently nudges the infant wildebeest out of the water:
African wildlife - Mother hippo rescues a baby wildebeest in Kenya

[Photos courtesy of Sanctuary Retreats.]

Scientists recommend alternate route for proposed Serengeti Highway

Back in July we posted a story about how the Tanzanian government had approved the construction of a new highway that would cut directly through the Serengeti National Park, which is home to a spectacular array of animal life. Officials explained how the new road was necessary in order to facilitate trade and continue economic development in the region, and that they expected the highway to have little impact on the Serengeti ecosystem. Unfortunately, the 290 scientists, from 32 different countries, who signed a recent petition, disagree with that sentiment.

Those scientists, who represent more than 50 different universities worldwide, are recommending that Tanzania find an alternate route around the Serengeti or face severe, negative, and irreversible damage to the environment there. Of most concern is how the increased traffic would impact the annual migration that takes place on the Serengeti plains during which time, millions of wildebeests, zebras, antelopes, and other animals travel across the region, playing an important role in helping the ecosystem to not only survive, but thrive. The fear is that if the migration is disrupted, it could lead to a complete collapse of that ecosystem.

The petition includes a survey of those same scientists in which they give their thoughts on a variety of topics in regards to the road. For instance, 85% of those surveyed said that they felt that it was either inevitable or very likely that the new highway would become a disruption or obstruction of the migration. Furthermore, 91% answered the same way when asked if they thought it would introduce invasive plants, animals, and diseases to the region.

The scientists join conservationists, international organizations, and the travel industry in condemning the plans to build the road. While all parties involved respect Tanzania’s desire to expand its economy, they also recognize that the Serengeti is a natural resource that is fragile and could easily be altered beyond repair.

While the local government is planning to move ahead with construction plans, the Save the Serengeti organization is still hoping to find an alternative solution. Personally, I hope they can too.

Wildebeest migration one of the natural wonders of the world

Every year during this season, millions of wildebeest migrate northwards from Serengeti in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya. It’s part of their annual cycle of looking for green pastures and plentiful waters. Zebras, antelopes, and other animals come along too, with predators like lions and cheetahs hanging on the edges of the herds hoping to catch the slow or the weak.

The Maasai Mara Game Reserve and Serengeti National Park are the two most popular places to see the migration, and the Kenyan newspaper Daily Nation reports hotels are already full, with even the Kenyan tourism minister saying he couldn’t find a room.

The annual migration is like a dream safari intensified, with the plains blackened by the herds. This National Geographic video shows just how big this mass movement of animals is. So if you want to see what ABC News has dubbed one of the new wonders of the world, you better book early for next year so you don’t get caught out. Sadly, there’s another reason to act soon. Observer Science Editor Robin McKie includes the migration in his list of ten natural wonders we can no longer take for granted due to global warming. McKie points out that if current trends continue, the plains will dry up and there won’t be enough pasture for the herds.


Image courtesy user Haplochromis via Wikimedia Commons.