The subspecies of the Wildebeest found in the Maasai Mara is C.t.albojubatus; the Western White Bearded Gnu. There are several other subspecies found throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. This Alcelaphine is synonymous with the Maasai Mara and Serengeti ecosystem, because of the mass migration that occurs all year round in the ecosystem but is particularly spectacular in the smaller area of the Maasai Mara between July and October. Contrary to popular belief; this migration has not necessarily been happening for millennia, but culminated in the last 100 years because of conditions that include; the eradication of Rinderpest (that started in the late 1890s) and this caused a six fold increase in Wildebeest numbers between 1963-1977 alone, and encroachment on wildlife areas by agriculture and human settlement in the dry seasons. Since 1977, the Wildebeest population has been fairly stable at 1.3million animals and when you add the other migrating ungulates, the total ‘migration’ can number up and above 2 million. However, not all these animals move in ‘one’ herd and may not even cross borders.
Wildebeest are water dependant to the extent of not being further than 20kms from water, and this along with their preference for short grasslands and open bush land, mean that they are forever looking for the right grasses, standing water and the important minerals in the soils.
These social grazers can be highly territorial when not on the move, and even females have tight home ranges. However, when they move the massing of animals does stimulate rutting and males will set up micro territories whenever they have a chance. This is partially why they are called ‘the clowns of the plains’, as their exaggerated behaviours is purely to attract females and deter other males. After the ‘rut’ one baby is born after 8mths gestation and unlike other ungulates that does not hide, but follows the mother almost immediately. By 1-2 months old the young wildebeest starts to lose its tan colour and adopt the dark adult colouring. Females may first mate around one and a half years old, but males don’t usually establish territories until between 4-5 yrs old.
The particular shape of the Wildebeest is due to its need to wrestle other wildebeest and therefore does not need long legs, however, their leg/body shape is particularly energy efficient and this is why they have adapted to mass movements throughout Africa.
Longevity is about 20 yrs.