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12 Jun, 2024
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New Life Moments!!!- Article by Gareth Jones

New Life Moments: The Nairobi Wildebeest

On a recent Sunday afternoon, after having spent some time in the Athi basin, we drove back towards the No 10 murram heaps, there was plenty of game there. Then from amongst a small group of wildebeest a staggering wobbly wet little newborn calf emerged. WOW! What a special moment to be privileged to witness this new life event. As the minutes ticked by, the newborn calf significantly strengthened. After a while, the calf could walk fairly confidently, then amazingly the calf suddenly found its running legs and began to joyfully run around its mother. The calf even had an adventurous excursion as it ran about 50 meters from its mother. This little creature was seemingly blissfully unaware of any limitations or possible dangers. The calf ran over a small rise and ended up in a culvert next to the road. The mother called out as the calf disappeared down the culvert. The calf responded immediately and had to use all the skill and strength its newborn legs could muster to climb up the small embankment next to the road.

All this activity and exercise had obviously made the newborn calf quite hungry. We watched some precious mother & calf bonding moments as the calf instinctively began to look underneath its mother’s legs for the teats. After a very short teat search, the calf began to suckle nourishing mother’s milk. Although we didn’t see the actual birth, we believe the calf was less than an hour old when we found it. In the wild many creatures, and especially herbivores, need to rapidly adapt after birth, such that after a few hours they can actually move quite quickly with the herd. In comparison, we humans are rather “soft and weak”, as after an entire year of life from birth most human babies can hardly walk. Thankfully, people generally do not need to look out for predators in the wild, while creatures like baby antelope need to ensure that they live another day every day as they hone their survival skills.

On another occasion, very early one morning about fifteen years ago, I approached the No7- Karen Primary dam. I noticed a jackal at the water, the jackal moved away as I went past, then I saw something move in the reeds, it was in the water and dark grey, maybe an otter?.. Then suddenly it stood up and turned, and I saw it was a small wildebeest calf, it turned and struggled towards the far bank, then stumbled ashore, and found its legs again to begin walking towards the track. Suddenly another jackal appeared and began to chase it, over the dam wall and right in front of my car, then within seconds there were 3 jackals attacking the calf. In desperation the calf then turned and “escaped” to the safe refuge of my car, it stood next to my driver’s door for about 10 min, so close I could actually have touched it. The jackals then moved away, and in the meanwhile during the drama other cars had parked. After the jackals had moved away, the calf began to walk in the direction of the main road past the parked cars, then suddenly one of the jackals appeared and chased the calf, over the rise and down past the stream and back to the No7 dam wall.

The calf however was very determined and although wobbly managed to stand its ground against the jackal, the jackal then gradually moved away, and the calf then escaped up the hill behind the dam, moving past two adult male wildebeest on the way, and went out of sight over the hill, hopefully in search of its mother……

It could have ended tragically differently if my car had not been there during the second attack, and also if the other 2 jackals had joined the final chase. However, such is the way God designed nature, the young calf survived, I hope it found its mother & lived to tell the tale… it is always good to drive slowly, and be prepared for the unexpected!

On another occasion, after driving down to the Karen C Primary Dam, another smaller herd of about 20 wildebeest stood nearby, as I was about to drive away, something different caught my eye, one of the wildebeest had something protruding from its rear end. While looking through my binoculars, I excitedly observed that this was the start of a calf being born.

Then just as the wildebeest seemed settled, various vehicles drove past without stopping, so the noise and dust caused the wildebeest to move away, and run up the eland valley. I was amazed that the female wildebeest could actually move at reasonable speed with the herd while the head of her calf flopped around suspended behind her rear.

Eventually the herd stopped and settled further up the eland valley, although they were some distance away, I was still able to watch the birth event as it happened. The wildebeest birth took approximately 10 minutes, as the mother varied between standing, kneeling and lying down, while the calf began to eagerly wriggle while still suspended in mid-air.

Then suddenly the calf fell onto the dry red earth in the moment of final birth, lying still for about a minute while the rest of the herd began to sniff at it, then the calf began to struggle to get up, at first it was very wobbly, but after less than 5 minutes the calf was actually up, drinking mother’s milk, and walking after her. God has made many animals much tougher than human being in order to ensure their survival. Witnessing any birth in nature is always a wonderful experience.

The wildebeest that come into the Nairobi National Park are the Eastern White-bearded Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus albojubatus). This is a rare subspecies of gnu which consists of less than 5000 individuals located east of the Rift Valley.

Wildebeest are known by their nature to migrate over vast distances, in the past the area now known as the Nairobi National Park often had thousands of them moving through the park in search of grazing pastures, naturally the lions also enjoyed this. Sadly, due to the Nairobi megacity growing rapidly, the traditional migration routes are being throttled by fences and construction projects. The park is becoming a “green island in a sea of construction”. It will be a very sad occasion if the wildebeest no longer return.

I thank God that the wildebeest are back again this year. This is such good news, or should I say “gud gnus”?

 

New Life Moments
Gareth Jones – A passionate writer & photographer