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savanna: eco info: animals

lion Of the many African savannas, the Serengeti is most well known for its vast herds of wildebeest, gazelle and zebras. It is also home to one of the highest concentrations of large predators in the world. Here, lions and hyenas seldom go hungry. From the grass-grazing zebras to tall tree-foragers like the giraffe and elephant, each of the Serengeti's wildlife makes the most of all available food sources.


Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus):
(1982 Serengeti pop est. 1.3 million )

Wildebeest Almost never without its herd, wildebeest are one of the most distinctive groups on the Serengeti. Each year, over 1 million wildebeest travel in a circular migration according to seasonal rains across the Serengeti plains. Their grazing and trampling of grass allows new grasses to grow, while their waste helps fertilize the dry Serengeti soil. During the heavy rains of April and May, wildebeest move off the central southern plain to the northwest near Lake Victoria. In June, they continue north, spending the dryer months of July through October in the green pastures of Kenya's Maasai Mara Game Reserve. By November, grass has returned to the central Serengeti plains and the herds start heading south, spending December through March once again on the central plains.* Also known as gnu, the grass-eating wildebeest stands about 4 to 6 ft. high and weighs between 350 and 600 lbs. Its natural predators are At night white-bearded wildebeest sleep on the ground in rows; this provides them with the security of being in a group while allowing them space to run in case of an emergency.


African Lion (Panthera leo):
1982 Serengeti pop est. 2,800)

African Lion The king-of-the-jungle is actually the king of the savanna. Most African lions live on the open plains. They live in small family units that move with a larger group of up to 40 members. Females do all the hunting, and usually team up when stalking prey. These large, tawny colored felines weigh between 260 lbs. for a heavy female to 575 lbs. for a full-grown male. Sharp, retractable claws and two-inch teeth make the lion an apt killing machine. But just like a house cat, lions love to sleep, play and cuddle. After a hunt, lions will hang around together for several days, keeping cool under trees or chasing one another's tail. Although once lions roamed freely, today the largest populations of these big cats are found in the Tanzania's Serengeti and South Africa's Kruger National Parks.
Hear the animal.


African Elephant (Loxodonta africana):

African Elephant African elephants are the world's largest land animals. They stand just under 9 ft. tall and tip the scales at over 13,000 lbs. Elephants live up to 50 years, and go through six sets of teeth during their life. Most live in large, extended family units that can range from six to 70 individuals. When an elephant dies, its family will mourn by staying with the body for a day or so, and then covering it up with branches. Once found throughout the African continent, elephants were decimated by hunters until an international ban on the poaching and trading of elephant tusks went into effect in the 1970s. Today, elephants are mostly found in restricted areas of central Africa, Kenya and Tanzania and national parks in South Africa. This is largely because of shrinking resources for elephant food needs. An elephant can require up to 500 lbs. of grass and 50 gallons of water a day.


Kirk's dikdik (Madoqua kirkii):

Kirk's dikdik A miniature antelope standing around 2 ft. tall, and weighing a mere 11 lbs. , the dikdik grazes on the small shoots of plants, grasses and very low bushes. This tiny deer is easily startled, and is likely to bounce away from predators in a series of erratic leaps. One of the dikdik's best defenses is simply to hide in bushes; it is so small, it is easy to miss. Its name refers to a warning call it makes that sounds roughly like "zdik, zdik."


Gerenuk (Litocranius walleri):

Gerenuk The gerenuk is also known as the gazelle-giraffe because of its long giraffe-like neck. When standing on four legs, it is just over 4 feet tall, but thanks to an evolutionary adaptation, the gerenuk is also able to stand on its hind legs, and extend its forelegs. Standing upright at a towering height of 6'5", it can pluck succulent leaves from between acacia trees' thorny branches.


Topi (Damaliscus lunatus):

Topi Smaller, and less abundant than the wildebeest, this antelope is also commonly found on the Serengeti plains' grassy savannas. Standing from 3 to 4 feet tall, Topi are sleek with fur of a reddish tan. They are strictly grass-eaters, and tend to group in small herds that are considered "closed" because they do not take kindly to newcomers.


Gerenuk Photo Credit/Copyright: Lisa Purcell



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