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The Gnu's World

Serengeti Wildebeest Ecology and Life History

Richard D. Estes

Publication Year: 2014

This volume is the first scholarly book on the antelope that dominate the savanna ecosystems of eastern and southern Africa. It presents a synthesis of research conducted over a span of fifty years, mainly on the wildebeests in the Ngorongoro and Serengeti ecosystems, where eighty percent of the world's total wildebeest population lives. Wildebeest and other grazing mammals drive the ecology and evolution of the savanna ecosystem. Estes describes this process as well as detailing the wildebeest's life history, focusing on its social organization and unique reproductive system, which are adapted to the animal's epic annual migrations. He also examines conservation issues that affect wildebeest, including range-wide population declines.

Published by: University of California Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgements

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pp. ix-xvi

How can I possibly acknowledge all the people who deserve thanks for their encouragement, support, friendship, and hospitality over the 50 years since I began research in Africa? Going over progress reports and papers written as long ago as the sixties, I realized that I had forgotten...

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Introduction: The Author’s Fifty-Year History of Wildebeest Research

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pp. 1-24

My purpose in writing about the natural history of the wildebeest is twofold: to give the antelope that once dominated the plains of eastern and southern Africa a book all to itself and to repay my debt to the animal that I have studied off and on for half a century while privileged...

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1. Africa: The Real Home Where Antelopes Roam

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pp. 25-44

The diversity and abundance of antelopes sets Africa apart from all the other continents. Africa has 72 to 75 different species, and Eurasia has 12; the other continents have none. The American pronghorn, adapting to similar plains habitats, looks a lot like an antelope but actually is so...

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2. African Savannas: Understanding the Tropical Climate, Vegetation, and the Gnu’s Ecological Niche

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pp. 45-64

This chapter is intended as a primer on Africa’s climate and vegetation as an aid to understanding the kinds of habitat that constitute the wildebeest’s ecological niche. Inhabitants of the north temperate zone often have little understanding of tropical climates beyond knowing it’s warm...

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3. Introducing the Wildebeest’s Tribe: Similarities and Differences among the Four Genera and Seven Species

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pp. 65-84

A wholly African tribe or clade ( = branch) of the bovid family tree in origin and distribution, alcelaphines reached their peak two million years ago, when there were over eight genera with at least fi fteen species. Though now pared to four genera and seven species, this tribe...

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4. The Four Wildebeest Subspecies and the Status of Migratory Populations

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pp. 85-108

C. t. taurinus, blue wildebeest or brindled gnu. Namibia and South Africa to Mozambique north of the Orange River, from Mozambique to Zambia south of the Zambezi River, and from southwestern Zambia to eastern and southern Angola. Slate blue coat with conspicuous dark...

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5. Increase and Protection of the Serengeti Wildebeest Population

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pp. 109-122

The Serengeti ecosystem lies on the high interior plateau of East Africa west of the Gregory Rift Valley. From the heights of the Crater Highlands (3,000 m), the land slopes down to Lake Victoria, at 920 m. The Serengeti plains are situated at an elevation between 1,600 and 1,800 m...

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6. Serengeti Grasslands and the Wildebeest Migration

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pp. 123-142

The gnu’s specialization for a particular range of grassland habitats, conveniently identified as acacia savanna, was outlined in chapter 2 and compared in chapter 3 with topi and hartebeest, two members of the same tribe with which it associates in the Serengeti ecosystem...

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7. Social Organization: Comparison of Migratory and Resident Populations

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pp. 143-160

While serving as resident naturalist at a Masai Mara resort some years ago, I was often asked to explain the erratic, “stupid” behavior of wildebeest at crossing points. They can behave rather mindlessly, I have to admit. Even with no obvious deterrent, like basking crocs (often...

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8. Male and Female Life Histories

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pp. 161-184

The natal sex ratio of wildebeest is equal.1 It remains equal as long as both sexes stay with their mothers and/or in herds of females and young. Calves remain dependent on their dams until weaned by nine months. From then on through the next calving season (February–March), most...

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9. Cooperation and Competition among Twenty-Seven Ungulates That Coexist with the Wildebeest

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pp. 185-212

The Serengeti ecosystem supports twenty-eight ungulates together with ten large carnivores that eat them. This is an extraordinarily rich and diverse ungulate community (fig. 9.1). How can all these species coexist with the wildebeest, which outnumbers them all put together and is so...

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10. The Amazing Migration and Rut of the Serengeti Wildebeest

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pp. 213-238

The rut of the Serengeti wildebeest is like nothing else on earth. Some half a million cows are bred during three weeks of frenzied activity. Yet surprisingly little of the activity actually involves mating. Most of it involves herding, chasing, and fighting among the bulls that are currently...

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11. The Calving Season: Birth and Survival in Small Herds and on Calving Grounds

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pp. 239-262

Eight months after the rut, the cows that became pregnant during the three-week peak produce their calves. Assuming a 95 percent pregnancy rate and that 80 percent of the cows bred during the rut, over 400,000 calves would be expected in a population of 1.3 million wildebeest...

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12. Serengeti Shall Not Die? Africa’s Most Iconic World Heritage Site under Siege

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pp. 263-316

That the Serengeti migratory ecosystem remains largely intact would seem to defy the odds, for all other African migratory ecosystems (apart from the floodplains of South Sudan, where the kob and tiang migrations miraculously survived the civil war) have been severely disrupted...

Bibliography

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pp. 317-338

Index

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pp. 339-351


E-ISBN-13: 9780520958197
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520273184

Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Gnus -- Tanzania -- Serengeti Plain.
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