A gnother gnu*

Mention the Maasai Mara to people, and they always ask if you saw the Great Migration, in which huge herds of wildebeest and other animals move from the Serengeti to the Maasai Mara and back, running the crocodile gauntlet across the Mara River en route. The Mara River was in flood when I was there, much to the delight of the hippos:

Mara river in flood, with hippos

I was there at the wrong time of year for the migration. However, the Maasai Mara has a resident population of lazy non-migrating wildebeest, so all was not lost. The species in Kenya is the Blue Wildebeest, also called the Gnu.Wildebeest and zebra

They are rather handsome, with their beards, and long dark manes and tails: indeed the first part of the scientific name Connochaetes taurinus means beard-mane in Greek, and the second half means bull.


Some of them had young:


The young are born tawny brown, and at around two months they begin to change to adult coloration, so this one is under two months old.

Both male and female wildebeest have horns, a relatively rare trait in bovids (cattle and antelope). Female horns are advantageous if the animal is not able to hide itself easily, and thus needs horns for defense.  This is the case if the animal is large, or lives in very open landscape, like the Maasai Mara. Wildebeest tick both boxes: males can weigh up to 640lbs, and the Mara plains are very very flat and grassy, with nowhere at all to hide!


Of the 82 species with female horns, 80 can be explained by this theory.

* My title comes from “I’m a Gnu” by Flanders and Swann. If you don’t know it, listen here:

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