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Zebras and Wildebeests

A lone zebra in a herd of wildebeest - can you spot it?

Zebra Day

Jan 31

Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day

Today's Musings, History & Folklore

"Welcome wildebeest
and beetle,
Oxpecker and lion.
This water hole is yours.
It offers you oasis
beside its shrinking shores."

~ Dear Wandering Wildebeest, Irene Latham

What's gnu, wildebeest? The wildebeest (also called a gnu) is an antelope native to Africa, known for its odd shape and markings between the front and back. Some species undergo mass migrations which coincide with annual patterns or rain and grass growth leading to huge herds also known as "implausibilities" or "confusions." Interestingly, recent research has shown a herd of wildebeest possesses what is known as a "swarm intelligence", whereby the animals systematically explore and overcome obstacles as one. While having the appearance of a frenzy when encountering predators, their overall behavior as a group, may benefit the overall herd through a communicated and localized assessment of risk. Wildebeest often graze in mixed herds with zebra, which gives heightened awareness of potential predators. Can you pick out the lone zebra in the herd of wildebeest? 🦓

Zebras and Wildebeests

Happy Zebra (and other striped herding beasts such as the Wildebeest) Day!

The above famous photo of wildlife photographer Ingo Gerlach, who captured a sneaky zebra amongst a herd of wildebeest,  didn’t even realize it until long after taking this shot!


There are three species of zebra: Grevy’s zebra (Equus grevyi), mountain zebra (E. zebra) and plains zebra (E. quagga), the latter of which is by far the most common.  Another species of plains zebra called the quagga, was hunted to extinction in the late 19th century.

Zebras make a range of noises, some of which are the same as horses while others are unique.

Like horses, zebras will snort when excited and nicker (creating a ‘whuffle’ kind of sound by blowing air through their nose and lips) when greeting each other.  But zebras also bray in a similar way to donkeys and mules.  A zebra bray is wider ranging than a donkey’s, starting as a low growl and rising to a high squeal not unlike a pig. Braying like this can be heard over great distances and is used to find potential mates.

Besides providing camouflage, the zebra’s famous stripey coat is thought to disperse more than 70 per cent of incoming heat, preventing the animal from overheating in the African sun. Air moves at different speeds over light-absorbing black stripes and light-reflecting white stripes, creating own cooling air currents.  This  monochrome pattern also seems to throw off the visual systems of biting flies.

A dazzle of zebras is the most common collective noun, named for the motion dazzle effect created by a group of running zebras.  Other terms include the common "herd" and "zeal" of zebras.

Often found together with zebras, wildebeest, also known as gnus, are a type of antelope.   

Zebras and wildebeest group together in open savannah environments with high chances of predation. This grouping strategy reduces predation risk because larger groups decrease each individual's chance of being hunted.  Fascinatingly, the seasonal presence of thousands of migratory wildebeests reduces local lion predation on giraffe calves, resulting in greater survival of giraffes!

To see and learn more about the mass migration of wildebeest across the  the Serengeti to find fresh grazing ground, fording crocodile-infested rivers and evading predators such as lions, cheetahs, and hyenas, click the combination of wildebeest and zebras below. 

Zebras and Wildebeests
Zebras and Wildebeests

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