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]