For the grand finale of my group names-themed posts, I am going big…really big. These are a some of the largest gatherings of animals I have ever had to good fortune to witness and photograph. I have split the finale into two parts for maximum enjoyment! I hope you will enjoy the views!
WILDEBEEST – Their name means “wild beast” in Afrikaans, which is well suited as these large mammals are often seen stampeding wildly. It is one of the largest antelopes, reaching 8 feet in length, 4.5 feet in height and weight up to 600 pounds. Honestly, they have one of the strangest looking heads:
But this post isn’t about facial features. Wildebeests are grazers, eating the short grasses found in Africa. Due to the extreme climate conditions, wildebeest must travel up to 1000 miles in a seasonal migration to find food and water. They travel in a horde that can number up to 1.5 million wildebeests.
This migration, besides being extreme in terms of mileage and beasts. is also fraught with danger – predators such as lions and hyena look to take down babies and weak adults by isolating them from the herd. The wildebeest also need to cross the great Mara River which separates their Kenya and Tanzania feeding grounds. And in the waters lurk crocodiles waiting to snap up a meal. I was so amazed at the sudden rushing into the water by the wildebeest that I just about missed an attack:
What a sight to see all these massive animals crashing into the water, desperate to make it across, scrambling every which way. Their group name – CONFUSION is quite fitting.
You probably have noticed zebra intermixed with the wildebeest in the photo above as they all jumped into the Mara River. The two animals have a mutually beneficial relationship. The two species travel together because each has a set of adaptations that perfectly complement the other. Wildebeest graze short grass, for example while zebra prefer the long grass so the two are never in competition for food. Zebra have better memories of the migration routes and their underlying hazards and can better detect crocs in the water. Wildebeest have a very well developed sense of smell and so can better sniff out water sources.
So let’s now leave the confusion of wildebeests and look at their fellow travelers, the zebra.
ZEBRA – Closely related to horses, zebras have thick bodies with thin legs, and a short bristly mane. Their most well known feature of course are their dizzying black and white striped coats. Scientists have opined that these stripes confuse predators as well as biting insects, and they also think the combination of colors helps to control the zebra’s body heat. Since every zebra has a unique pattern, like human’s fingerprints, the stripes may also serve socially to help zebras recognize each other.
Zebras’ migration groups along side wildebeest number into the hundreds of thousands, so while not as large as the wildbeest’s “confusion” their herds are formidable.
With all the hundreds of thousands of black and white stripes streaming through Africa, it makes so much sense that the grouping is called a DAZZLE.
Next up, here are some photos of an elegant, graceful and beautiful mammal, the Thomson’s Gazelle. While a group of these is simply called a HERD, they are so lovely that I needed to include them in this post. Fun facts:
- Thomson’s gazelle is one of the smaller species of gazelles- about 35-55 lbs and about 22-26 inches in height at the shoulder.
- They were named after an explorer Joseph Thomson
- Males live in separate herds from the females, but the dominant male gets first crack at the ladies – they mate twice a year
- They can reach running speeds of 40 miles per hour. While running, they can jump in the air with all four feet above the ground. This is called “pronking”
- Their nickname is “Tommy”
- Migration herds can have up to 700 individuals
Nest week, Part Two of the Really Really Big Groups